Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Excerpts from October

This weekend I'll be presenting an extremely distilled version of my thesis at the annual Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association Conference in Niagara Falls. Seems like as good a time as any to post some great lines that have been ringing around in my ears all month. Some of these I've mentioned before. Some go together kind of well. Some are relevant to discussions we've had on the blogs. Some are from great songs I've been listening to. A few are just, well, cute. Some I'm not sure what they mean. You can decide which is which. Enjoy, and have a good weekend!


Jon (to his boys in the backseat of the van, who are fighting about pretty much everything): "Guys, do you you think you can talk without arguing?"

Brady: "We can talk without arguing right Elijah?"

Elijah (harshly): "No we can't."


Writer (in Tarkovsky's Stalker) : "Listen Einstein, I don't want to argue anymore."

Philosopher: "Truth is born of argument, damn it!"


Mallory McGarry (in West Wing Season One): "Don't play dumb with me Sam."

Sam Seborne : "But I'm actually dumb. Most of the time I'm just playing smart."


My son Elijah, out of nowhere: "Dad, you like books so much you should be a bookaneer."


Sheriff Ed Bell (monologue in No Country for Old Men): "The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, 'O.K., I’ll be part of this world.'”


M. Ward (in "Poison Cup", from the album Post-War):
If love
If love
Is a poison cup
Then drink it up
'Cause a sip
A sip
Or a spoonful won't do
Won't do nothing for you
Except mess you up


Augustine (from Predestination of the Saints): "No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable. . . . Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought. . . . Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking."


G.K. Chesterton: "Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another."


G.K. Chesterton: “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Birth Day

As a Chestertonian exercise of sorts, I've made it a habit to try to think about a person on their birthday and imagine for one moment that they never existed. Then in the frightful moment of that imagining I am able to see how incredibly thankful I am for that life so taken for granted; what a celebration a birthday actually is. I had a moment like that unexpectedly this summer.

It wasn't anyone's birthday. I was a routine moment in life. I found myself in a huge crowd of people with whom I do not normally spend a lot of time---at a demolition derby and farm exhibition---when a couple of us split off to go get overpriced food for everyone in the group. After my successful trip to the concession stand I was waiting to meet up with my expeditionary partner and my eyes were scanning the mass of strangers for that one familiar face. For a moment I was awash in my isolation from everything and everyone around me. Seconds later she appeared around the corner of a salted pretzel stand, and I was struck by a thought from out of the blue:

Is there anyone in the world who has done more for me in my entire life than that person right there? It was followed by another thought: I am still just a little boy in a big strange world who feels a whole lot more comfortable when he sees his mom.

My mother turns I-don't-want-to-say-how old today, and there is a card in the mail and a gift waiting next time she visits. Probably a phone call if we can connect today too. These are the little things we do for every birth day, often without thinking much about it. This blog-post is not meant to be some cheesy excuse for not fulfilling those annual obligations. I just wanted to say something about parents; about mothers; about birth days; about my mother.

Having become a parent of two boys in the last five years (and about to add two more to the number) I have been inundated with realizations of all that my parents did for me EVERY DAY that went largely unnoticed unless it was one day not done or was done with less than the usual excellence.

Watching my wife raise my boys I am amazed at what it takes to be a mother. Even the nine months of pregnancy are just a ridiculous example of self-giving. Watching myself attempt to raise children I am amazed at how hard it is. Having started out with great ideals I sometimes slip into funks where I can't go one day without raising my voice at my kids; where I am going nuts for a moment of my own; where I find myself wishing I had half a foggy clue what I was doing.

Then I think of my mother and I have absolutely no recollection of her ever raising her voice at me. She was and still is always willing to drop everything she is doing in order to help me out. Anything I actually do well as a parent I probably learned from her and my dad.

If on my best days I ever exhibit a calm restful presence, I got it from my mom. If on my best days I find myself doing things for others without asking them to thank me for it or even expecting in my wildest dreams anything in return, I got it from my mom. If I do what is best for my kids, even at cost to myself, I got it from my mom. Heck, when I wake up tomorrow morning to embrace a new day of life in this world, I got it from my mom!

Of course, there is hope for me yet, not really because of genetic inheritance, but because my mom also told me where she got it. And lately when I think of what it is to be a testament to Christ Jesus, I think less and less of the great preachers and more and more of the people who live day in and day out giving of themselves for others often at great sacrifice to themselves and with little praise to show for it. In that way, for all the attention that I pay to the great writers and thinkers of the faith, I'm not sure I have been witness to a better living example of Christ than my mother.

Sorry if this sounds sentimental. When I stood in that crowd it hit me not like a hallmark card---just bald fact. I'm not going to use this blog to do this all the time, but today I publicly toast my mother. Happy is the day of her birth.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Burn After Reading

I don't often get out to see new movies while they are still in theatre so I try to do full-scale reviews when I do. It was a treat to get out to see Burn After Reading with my wife the other night. It was one last date before our twins arrive and things get hectic again. This is not exactly a date movie, but we didn't have a lot of options, and my wife is a good sport!

Like Fargo, this Coen brothers comedy had its share of violence and f-bombs (readers be warned). Also like Fargo, however, the main humour of the film is that it makes the bad guys look really stupid. In this case it is the CIA's bumbling and one man's infidelity that gets the brunt of the satirical edge. This isn't "ha ha" funny so much as it is the joke that you are left with at the end of the day---and it is a joke very well told.

Besides that, the humour of the film is delivered in such a way that it wouldn't be funny if I told you. My brother was right when he told me that the great thing about the Coen brothers' films is that they do stuff in a way that could only be done in film. It is true use of the medium. If you read the script or looked at the stills or even listended to the audio-reel you probably wouldn't laugh at the parts I laughed at. But there were these moments that were indescribably funny and I'll only look stupid trying to explain them. Odd situations lead to oddly-said lines from quirky characters and next thing you know you are laughing uproariously at an otherwise non-descript moment like getting the name of a bike wrong.

The weird thing about it is that these odd characters seem more true to life than most "normal" characters in film. They do the awkward things that real people do, and it ends up being fairly funny or fairly disturbing, mostly because it is just way too true.

It is hard for me to review a film without interacting with the content a bit--even for a comedy. That's just me. I appreciated the ridiculously satirical depictions of infidelity and vanity, as well as of the careless powers-that-be. The plot didn't take itself too seriously, but still had an edge to it. One also catches a subtle jab at the of injustice of life in undertones of the story where, of all that happens, the worst of it goes to the two most quality guys in the film. One might describe this as a "nice-guys-finish-last comedy," if there could be such a thing.

Far and away the best part of this film was Brad Pitt. In the last couple years he has become one of two or three actors who I always want to see, almost no matter what the film. That one he did with Angelina ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was it?) was horrible, but otherwise I can't get enough of his acting. In this movie he was hilarious. In fact, while I can respect the desire not to overdo it or play up the character too much, if he had been the focal point from start to finish I might have given this movie a 9 or 10. What a great role this was. I laughed at almost every single thing this guy did. Oh man. I even laugh at the photo.

Something keeps me from giving this movie more than a seven out of ten though. I think it took me awhile to get into the story, and even though I am not incredibly bothered by swearing, sometimes the cruder elements were less than funny to me. I can't recommend this to all my readers, but if you appreciate the Coen brothers at all I think you will like this one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Conversation (About Growing Up Evangelical)

Another conversation has opened up online that I have been invited to be a part of by my friend Colin. It is something of a discussion group for those wishing to work through some of the struggles of being a contemporary evangelical. You are free to look on and comment. It begins with each of the contributing members introducing themselves, thinking particularly of their own back-story in regard to the perceived foibles of evangelicalism. I have posted my own introductory entry below.

It is odd telling such stories because they inevitably involve other people, especially when we are talking about generational generalizations. I also hesitate to tell such personal stories, but then again I don't see how we can discuss such matters without being personally honest. All that to say: I want the stories of my church upbringing to read more like a tribute to my parent's faithful dialogue with me through some messy evangelical decades than like an indictment of everyone who ever had an influence on me.

I say this with fear and trembling: I'm not entirely sure I would be a Christian today if not for spending thousands and thousands of dollars to get a theological education, thus discovering Christianity to more relevant, life-giving, complex, beautiful, intellectual, and communal than I had ever realized.

I'm not trying to make a statement with that, I'm just saying that's my story. I'm not trying to say the evangelical churches I grew up in never had any of that, I'm just saying I never caught much wind of it (and still don't very often). I'm not saying I have my own theological education to thank for my faith (as if it is mine in some way), I'm just saying that key professors and authors have been the part of the church which God has graciously used to keep me. (I think this does speak to a problem in evangelicalism, but we'll get to that later I'm sure.)

Reading Robert Webber's Younger Evangelicals a couple years ago I realized that being born in '75 put me between generations---and this explained to me why I've always felt tugged in two directions at once. It has never been incredibly difficult for me to join in on the postmodern critique of modernity; the Gen-X critique of Boomers; the emergent critique of the seeker-service; and so on. Whatever you want to call it, I feel it in my bones.

But it isn't so easy: I am just as suspicious of my critique as I am of the one I critique. I am postmodern enough to believe that it isn't so black and white as all that---as if modernity is all bad and postmodernity all good; as if my generation will be able to right the wrongs of evangelicalism past without in turn bringing new and even worse wrongs to evangelicalism future; as if we are the enlightened ones whose first step ought to be to shrug off the lies and errors of our fathers. Uh-uh. I'm with Elijah: My ancestors may have had some problems, but the harder I try to fix them the more I discover that I am no better than my ancestors. We've seen generation after generation err by over-reacting to the one before. Too many babies have been thrown out with the bathwater. The errors of today's evangelicalism are the over-reactions to the evangelicalism which preceded.

But lest this become a rant instead of an introduction, let me give a couple anecdotes from my life that illustrate why I look at it this way.

When I was a boy of 12 I was for the first time listening to rock music on my headphones---and it was so good. I was loving it. I had never really heard anything like it and new vistas of experience were opening on my horizon.

But all the time I listened I was full of this debilitating and deathly fear that I'd be found out for being so rebellious; I'd be in huge trouble for brushing the dark side---and this new world of music that had just opened up in front of me would be taken away by my parents forever.

Then one day it happened: I was listening to this music and my mom was trying to talk to me. I couldn't hear her, so naturally she spoke louder to get my attention. When I noticed, well, I thought my time had come: I was busted!

I don't recall exactly what happened next but I think I burst into tears. Turned out she was just telling me we had to go somewhere. That's all. She couldn't understand what I was so fearful of. What she and I both didn't realize, I think, was what a hold guilt and fear had on my young Christian heart. I felt guilty for pretty much everything and I was afraid of even more.

Now here's the crazy thing: The music was Micheal W. Smith! And my parents had not only overseen the purchase of the cassette but had given me the walkman! Why was I afraid? For the life of me I can't figure it out except to say that the fear (and guilt) that I felt crippling me growing up was part and parcel of the evangelical air I breathed.

I'm not going to try to say that guilt and fear don't have their place, but they are not the beating heart of the faith. Something went seriously wrong in my corner of the 2oth century evangelical world and many like me have not survived it. I am thankful that by the grace of God somehow the faith still has a hold of me, but at times it has been barely. Eventually the icy grip of guilt and fear squeezes the life out of it and you either run for cover or you find that there is something deeper to the faith.

I hope this doesn't sound like therapy, but one more anecdote: In grade 7 the San Francisco earthquake happened right before my eyes while I watched TV. Given my upbringing I was fairly certain the rapture was about to happen any moment. Unexpectedly, I became very afraid of being raptured. I did not want to go to heaven. I did not want to go to hell, either, don't get me wrong, but all I could think of when I thought of heaven was this eternal extension of my current experience. At the time I did not appreciate things like love and grace and peace and reconciliation and hope. Those things had certainly been taught in church but I didn't hear them.

I had sure heard about the "slippery slope" though. And it certainly kept me out of trouble. Something good might still be said about it. I had heard conviction of sin. And in some way it certainly led me to Jesus. Something good might still be said about that too. I had heard all about the end-times. It certainly made me aware of the urgency of life, and something good might still be said about it as well, but beneath them I had nothing but a gaping hole where Jesus (and Christian community) ought to have been thriving but instead were barely breathing for air. Here I was petrified of heaven because all I could picture was me sitting alone in a crowded church feeling completely out of the loop . . . for ever. I was beside myself. I really was. Few things are as frightening in my memory as that time of my life.

What got me through was my dad praying with me. Notice that? I had the evangelicalism of my ancestors partly to blame for the trouble I was in, but I also had my living breathing ancestor to thank for leading me in Christian communion to engage the Jesus somewhere behind it all.

20 years later I am still working through all of this (and it has been interesting now to laugh about those stories with my parents, and also together to ask quizzically: "What was going on there?") My church upbringing is something I have become very thankful for. But it is also something I want to build on. Hopefully little conversation groups like this one can be some good therapy---ahem, I mean edification!

I doubt that ours is a period of transition which will smooth out the church experience for our children. I shudder to think of the messes I am leaving for my kids to clean up. But I take solace in the grace of God and I make it my goal not simply to pass on a heritage of my own achieved perfection, but ultimately to pass on the ministry of reconciliation that (whether it has always been realised or preached or not) has been the beating heart of the evangelical church all along.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Three Years Blogging

On October 22, 2005, this blog was born. I had heard of blogging on a West Wing episode, was intrigued, did some playing around online, and came out with this.

At the time I felt like a bit of a bandwagon jumper and wondered how long the fad would last. Almost 200 posts later I find myself communicating with quite a few people this way, and though I feel like taking a hiatus now and again, I generally enjoy posting here once a week or so and taking whatever dialogue comes my way. I also check out about a dozen other blogs throughout the week and comment regularly on at least half of them. Though I have allowed it to distract me from "real life" at times, for the most part it has been really good.

As is common, this side of sunday began with an explanation for its existence, which went as follows:

This is my first blog so I'm still finding my way around. My intention here is to explore my passion for writing and to see where that takes me.

I plan to write mostly social commentary peices from a decidedly Christian perspective. However, I'm not so concerned about pushing religion as I am in authentically exploring the depths of this faith in a reasoned and empassioned manner.

Spirituality encompasses all of life, from doing dishes to talking philosophy, and so there will be very few topics I won't want to tackle. Unless of course they simply don't interest me at all.

Among the things which do interest me are reading, sports, culture, truth based spirituality, the church, music, movies, well-done television, and even politics to some degree. Although it is rare that my thoughts on the latter are anything less than frustrated.

I look forward to the possibilities this site might hold both for my own exploration of writing and for the potential dialogue that could ensue, whether that be among friends, family, colleagues, strangers or even enemies (should I have any out there or make any along the way)! See you soon.

I am pleasantly surprised to look back and find that this still pretty much describes what I'm doing here.

My first comment came from tonytanti, my brother, who continues to be one of my most vocal readers, along with matthew wilkinson. I often run into friends and acquaintances who tell me that they read but don't comment, and so I try to keep writing for a pretty general audience. However, it must be admitted that the conversations that ensue are often driven by the reactions of one of those two, which is more than fine with me since they are both people I like talking to. I really do welcome more comments though, even in disagreement. I think dialogue has become my number one reason to be in the blogosphere.

Anyway, I think in the next week or so I'm going to try to update my tags. I've always been sloppy with these and I figure it might be good to get them more accurate before this blog gets too big to handle. In the meantime, here is my first post, from October 29, 2005:

Blood is Hard to Ignore

On Sunday morning we went to church and sat near the back. The sermon was about Ruth, the singing was mostly hymns, and the pastoral prayer was given by the elder who also goes to our weekly Bible study. The pew bench was particularly hard this week, and there were more than a few empty spots in front of us. We weren't even all that far back either. It occurred to me that attendance was significantly lower this day. Probably some people away, or maybe it was Christian sleep-in day and nobody told me.

I noticed only part way through the service that the "elements" were out at the front of the church. The stale bread and the tart grape juice were all ready to be passed around at the end of the hour. Usually I'm pretty into this part of the service, but today it seemed so stiflingly normal.

Indeed, once we got to it, it went along like most of the rest. The eight elders gathered at the front, only one of them conspicuously wearing no suit jacket, and they took turns praying for "the bread and the cup." I started to wonder why we felt these little cubes of Safeway bread needed our petitions and these tiny glasses needed our prayers. I was also thinking about how we in evangelical circles like to call it "the cup" most likely because it sounds better than "the sacred grape juice" or the "wonderful Welch's." It all gave me a bit of a chuckle ... which of course I had to suppress.

As with most of our services around the Lord's Table, this one was pretty quick and painless and full of Christianese. Being so used to it, I never doubted our sincerity during this time though, in fact I quite appreciated that we were pausing to remember our debt to the Lord -- a debt that grows that much greater with each feeble attempt of ours to give him worship.

Once the bread started its rounds, I enjoyed watching all the people in front of me shuffle down the pew to make up for all the blank spaces, pass the plate, and then return to their places. They were sitting so far from one another! Of couse when it came my turn, I did the same.When the cups came by, I noticed they'd been jostled a bit, and while I tried to avoid taking a spilled one, I realized my failure to steer clear of the sticky little mess as I passed the tray over to my wife.

I saw a dot of grape juice on my finger, and to be honest, it kind of startled me.

When it caught my eye it looked like a prick of blood. Blood is hard to ignore. And with the elements passed now I looked and saw an even larger smear of it on my wife's hand, right in the middle of the palm. Right where the nails might have been. She tried to flick off the grape juice but it only streaked down one of her fingers and threatened one or two drips onto the floor. To avoid this, she closed her hand and clenched it repeatedly until all of it was rubbed into her palm. Moments later we "partook" together.

I have to say that despite my best efforts to notice everything but the sacred truth behind our tradition that morning, it had now become inescapably clear. Tucked away into our pathetic little ceremony was the amazing fact that the bread was as freely passed to us as was Christ's body, and this grape juice made a mess which paled in comparison to that of His blood.And these were just lame little attempts to encapsulate God's passion, as I am but a lame little attempt to encapsulate His Son. An attempt wrought with failure but met by the forgiveness His sacrifice won.

Well, there you go. Thanks for meeting me here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rock the (non)Vote

So it turns out that only 59% of eligible voters actually bothered to show up at the polls. What gives?

Pundits say people are "tired" of going to the polls. Is that it? Tired? How can we use the word "tired" regarding something we do every two to four years for a couple minutes is at a time? That can't be it.

Is it "voter apathy"? No doubt there is a good deal of apathy involved here, but when we say that I think we are also implying that these non-voters actually don't care about the election; that they are an offense to those who have fought for our freedom; that they are a disgrace to democracy.

I don't know about that. What's worse: the person who doesn't follow politics, feels uninformed, and doesn't vote, or the equally-in-the-dark person who does?

I would be in favour of mandatory voting. Charge someone a small fee on their income tax if they don't vote or something. Call it a tax break for those that do vote, I don't care. I think that would be alright. But I also suggest we look for other explanations and reactions to the poor voter turnout.

Sure, voting is our basic right, privilege, and responsibility, but so is the absentee ballot. And doesn't the absentee ballot say something fairly loudly (although not clearly)? I had to chuckle when one news reporter was asking a university student why they didn't vote and they said they didn't feel they had access to the information they needed. The reporter was beside herself with shock. "What? With the internet, radio, newspapers, and television?"

But I think it makes some sense. We have information overload; we don't trust institutions or politicians to inform us accurately; and we aren't even sure there is truth to be had beyond each person's opinion. And sure, the information is all probably out there somewhere, but you have to find it.

Television is built on sound-bytes, caricatures, and repetition. You don't get your information there. Even the debates are centered around offering tidbits for popular consumption. We probably shouldn't fault TV reporters too much for this. That is just the way TV is. Radio is better, and newspapers are better, but they require a fair amount of time and commitment to get our minds around the opposing views. Perhaps we should take the effort, but let's not pretend it is easy. And sure, it is all there on the Internet, but where do you look? Who do you trust for the information? You can't just read one article about the economy, or health care, or whatever---you have to read four or five for each. My (non-voting) friend who I was talking to last night explained that he feels like between him and the politician, it is he who has to do most of the work. That may sound ridiculous to the news pundit or the politician, but I think it is a decent point, actually.

I have a brother in politics, and I learn more from a five minute frank conversation with him than I've learned from hours and hours of listening to the media. He cuts to the chase and tells me what the issue is in plain language and explains why his MP approaches it the way he does. He gives me hard information about how the details shake down. I don't feel like that is easy to get unless you know someone behind the scenes.

I voted. I also ran a polling station and was fairly moved at various points of the day watching my neighborhood all stream through the doors in a low-key but meaningful celebration of their common freedom. But as a voter I must admit that I don't have half a clue what the person I voted for will do for our country. What is she going to do about health care? The economy? War? Taxes? Social services? etc. Part of me can understand leaving it up to the rest of the populace to decide. As long as the polling beforehand is telling me that my riding is a fore-gone conclusion, why bother?

Of course, if the voter turnout gets too low we've got a problem. If too many of us forgo our right we are leaving it up to the "intelligentsia" or the "activists" to do our work for us, and we are one step away from a dictatorship of the elite. But isn't that how it is already? Most of us get our information from the same sound-byte-saturated sources. Ours is a semi-dictatorship of popular media.

And so it seems to me that the 41% who did not vote have said something. Imagine if a political party spent all its effort winning those 41%? What would that party look like? It is conceivable that a brand new party could win a near-majority next time around simply by winning the non-voters!

Or imagine if a news source made a solid effort to really understand the problem here and to reach the populace with accessible and relatively reliable information? We are free to vote, but are we empowered to vote?

Certainly we should take responsibility. Certainly we should vote. But I'm thinking that there are bigger issues that could be addressed here.

I also wonder if the low voter turnout just tells us that people aren't too worried (or if they are, they don't think politics addresses their anxieties either way). They look at the parties in place and the polling data pre-election and it shows them that however it pans out the system will pretty much go as is. Perhaps that is naive and silly and a poor excuse, but I think it explains things pretty well. I mean, I voted, but I am under no illusions that my vote made one iota of a difference and I was never all that worried that our country was going to go off the rails.

Friday, October 17, 2008


This Friday afternoon I take my GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test in the hopes of that it will help me to be accepted for PhD studies somewhere.

The general rule for schools in the US is that you need to score over 4/6 on the analytical section (essay questions) and over 600 on the verbal section (language). However, one school suggested that most applicants are accepted with combined verbal and quantitative (math) scores summing around 1350 to 1400 out of a possible 1600.

I'm fairly nervous. By supper Friday I will be fried from 4 hours of straight writing. Worst case scenario is I'll receive a crushing dose of reality and either have to take the exam again in a month or get out while I still can. Best case scenario is that I'll leave the exam full of jubilant optimism!

To give you a flavour for this thing, here are a couple questions I got wrong on the practice test:

1. Which is most nearly opposite to the word BLITHE:


2. Before Maria changed jobs, her salary was 24 percent more than Julio's salary. After maria changed jobs, her new salary was 24 percent less than her old salary. Which is greater?

A) Julio's salary
B) Maria's salary
C) They are equal
D) Not enough info has been given

Friday, October 10, 2008

Politics and War

I am pretty much a pacifist, so don't get me wrong here, but with all the headlines I am looking at these days it is not clear to me what is being implied: Are we to think it a shame that our government has spent $18 billion dollars to participate in the war in Afghanistan?

I think that figure is lower than expected. Do people think war is cheap? Why don't the headlines talk about the body count instead? The answer to that is because we are in a time of "economic uncertainty" (as if the rest of the time we have economic certainty), and that this isn't about the war but about scoring a political point or two on election eve.

I don't understand how this can be used as political capital by opposition parties. Has the government not planned a slow and careful withdrawl from leading the Afghan mission? Is this not fairly responsible of them? In contrast to the American activity in Iraq I think the Canadian efforts in Afghanistan have been something to be proud of, not only because of location (Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq) but because of our willingness to go where the oil isn't, where the need is greater, where the victories are not sexy, and where the help and the dollars are hard to come by. I think that the sacrifice that Canada has made to try to promote stability in this troubled region and to go right to the front line of the actual "war on terror" is admirable.

I know war is a complex issue. But that's why it shouldn't just become a last minute stab at scoring political points. Even as a pacifist by default (and that's another discussion) I have to say that I consider the sacrifice of $18billion in tax dollars to be something we should probably see as honourable. And as I say that I realize just how much this pales in comparison with the honour of those soldiers who have given their lives in this war.

As far as it concerns the political spin this seems meant to serve, the argument could probably just as easily be made that the lowness of the price has in part been the reason for the length of the mission or the high cost in human lives. But I am not informed enough to make that argument. I just wonder what everyone thinks when they read those headlines.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Today I was riding my bike through the path in the forest to the library. A chilly wind was strong at my back---so strong indeed that blustering pine cones were passing me on the trail.

A week ago I was driving my car and a crow flew into the rear passenger window where the only other occupant of the car was sitting: my second oldest son. He thought we got hit by a soccer ball. I watched in the rear-view mirror as the crow flailed its wings in the middle of the road and was immediately surrounded by another half-dozen squawking black birds. I tried to dial the SPCA on my cell but to no avail. I didn't know what to do. I drove by later and the crow was lying there dead. A couple hours later it was gone.

This week the United States government faced the always possible but oft-denied worst-case scenario of the free enterprise system---over-dependence on the filthy rich and powerful---and was forced to either painfully reinvent the system or buck up the cash to keep it afloat. By opting for the latter, as one New York Times columnist said on PBS, they essentially moved to privatize gains and socialize losses. In other words, the rich get rich when their investment risks go good, and the population foots the bill when their investment risks don't pay off.

Last week I went to an Elections Canada training session in order to get equipped to run one of the local polling stations on election day. I showed up for training thinking, "Sweet, this is a government job. I bet you in the next three hours I'll be as well-trained, well-fed, and over-caffeinated as one can get." My was I disappointed. I have never been so poorly trained for anything since my days working in a restaurant, I was fed absolutely nothing, and had to beg my way to possession of a pen. Oh well, the pay is good. Unfortunately I have a 100 page manual to read in order to avoid embarrassment the first time someone shows up to vote without ID and I don't know what to tell them.

A week ago I watched the English Canadian Election Debate. Elizabeth May was the most sensible sounding of all the opposition parties.

Yesterday afternoon I took a practice GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test as part of my preparation to apply for doctoral studies in the USA. I need to score over 600 on the Verbal section and 5 or 6 on the Analytical section. The other section is less relevant to my future studies, but the score may factor in somewhat. It is the Quantitative section. Math. I didn't understand half the questions. I tried for a while in high school math but a disregard for the teacher and an increasing apathy about life at that time led me to trail off to a dismal finish in Math 11. It showed on this exam. I scored 560. I'm surprised I did so well, actually. I need to study.

This brings up a related issue. For doctoral studies I need to have as many as two extra languages in addition to my own---probably French and German. I finished poorly in French 11 as well. My son is in his first month of French Immersion and is already about as far along as I. The thing is, I remember them telling me that I needed to do well in high school French and Math and Science "so I could go to college one day." I scoffed then, I scoffed upon entry into college, I even scoffed on my way into seminary---and now, finally, I regret not having applied myself as well as I might have.

Last, but certainly not least, yesterday by way of modern technology I was able to see inside my wife's womb and gaze at the moving figures of my two youngest children, each about 7 months young. The hearts were beating visibly. The one was kicking the other in the head. At one point the other seemed to be sucking his thumb. We can actually detect these movements just by staring at the outside of my wife's stomach for awhile: Lumps of this or that moving around, causing the stomach to be a lop-sided ball of motion one moment and as still as can be the next. It is all very surreal. They are each a little over 3 pounds and would fit one in each of my hands. They are alive and well, thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

One Book Meme

That last series was really helpful and I appreciate all the feedback. If you still wish to dialogue about it I will be checking the comments for awhile. Of course, for those of us whom this directly involves, now it is time to find a way to address the denomination. Anyone who wishes to discuss that issue further with me can feel free to email or find me on facebook or something. As for this site, I hate to think that my usual posts are trivial, but it will be sort of nice to just blog about stuff that doesn't have the same kind of immediate importance again! Anyway, the following seemed like a decent way to get back to regular blogging.

I've seen this meme at a few other blogs lately, including here, here, and (along with an explanation of what a "meme" is) here. Its pretty simple: 13 categories (I've added a few), one book for each question. Quite honestly, the Bible would be my answer for many of these questions, but I'm going to follow Dustin's lead and assume we're not talking about books that claim divine inspiration, or have multiple authors. (Now that I think of it, it might be interesting to do this meme for books of the Bible.) Anyway, here goes:

1.) One book that changed your life

Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton (1907)

2.) One book you've read more than once

Resident Aliens: A Provocative Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know That Something is Wrong - Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon (1989)

3.) One book you'd want on a desert island

A Comprehensive Guide to Shipbuilding (this answer has been stolen from G.K.C., but I think its the truth)

4.) One book that made you laugh

Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby (1992)

5.) One book that made you cry

A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid - Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela (2003)

6.) One book you wish had never been written
Tribulation Force - Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye (1997)

7.) One book you wish had been written

Church Dogmatics: Laymen's Edition - Karl Barth

8.) One book you are currently reading

The One, The Three, and The Many: God, Creation, and the Culture of Modernity - Colin Gunton (1993)

9.) One book you have been meaning to read but its size has prevented it

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (c. 1869)

10.) One book you were very glad to have been forced to read

Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context - Stanley Grenz and John Franke (2001)

11.) One book you wish they'd told you about

Adversus Haereses - Irenaeus (c. 180)

12.) One book that blew your mind

Perelandra - C.S. Lewis (1944)

13.) One book everyone ought to read

Exclusion and Embrace - Miroslav Volf (1996)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly, Part 3: The Proposal

There are two aspects to this proposal. One concerns my view of how the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada should correct its failure to adequately address the gender-roles question at the recent General Assembly and the other concerns my view of what to change once it does address it.

1. A Proposal for Properly Addressing Gender-Roles Polity in the C&MA

Those who have been reading along will note the rationale for this proposal in part 1 of this series, a few posts back. As much as I'd love to change everything in one fell swoop, this is not really the compassionate or proper way to make change, let alone to have the necessary discussion. A discussion allows truth to be spoken in love; allows different opinions to pull at one another with the proper tension; allows Christ's reconciling work to take place; allows the Spirit to guide us as a community rather than simply leaving that up to power-plays.

Also, let us recognize that this particular issue must allow for contextual determination of the speed at which changes are made. Some local churches will need time to process and consider things, perhaps also needing coaching in this regard as well. Remember that the goal here is not simply a decision, but to operate as we ought to as an interpretive community that faces the questions of our day with confidence to debate Scripture and read it together rather than cower in fear of division.

Thus, I propose a three year process. Ideally year one would be 2009 leading up to the Assembly in 2010, and the others would follow.

Year One - A Motion Made: A national committee is struck up by the Board of Directors and the President to carry out prayerful and careful discussion leading to a proposal on gender-related policies in the manual. These would include the Statement on Women in Ministry, the rule that states churches can vote by 2/3 majority to allow women as elders, and the Ordination policy. This committee should represent the varied views of the denomination and bring them together with the purpose of discussing this issue exegetically, theologically, and practically with a view to making a motion for approval at the 2010 Assembly. This motion to the Assembly should include a plan for communicating to the denomination churches whatever decisions are made (and why) and for overseeing their implementation over the next two years.

Year Two - Communication and Implementation: Thus, after Assembly has voted on the motion (likely with some amendments), there will be a communication and implementation team whose job it is to ensure that each district's churches are given a chance to understand the decisions that have been made and the chew on how it will affect and be applied in their local context. Some churches may at this point realize that further discussion needs to happen at their local level, and that they may need further coaching in this regard. Some churches will be ready to roll with whatever decision is made.

Either way, the congregation should have the opportunity to hear and understand the process and decision made and the leadership should weigh carefully how it will proceed. No church should fail to communicate with their people about the theological and interpretive issues. There should be no excuse for further fear of going to the Scriptures together on important issues in the future. A breakthrough needs to be made in our ability to be the interpretive communities we are supposed to be, and in our mindset which shifts the locus of our unity to the reconciling power of Christ rather than to some corporate vision statements or conflict-avoidance strategies.
Year Three - Feedback: After churches have worked on this for a year the denominational team should take feedback to see if further coaching is needed or if unanticipated snags need to be addressed. If there are amendments needed they can be brought the floor of Assembly 2012, at which point the team can either be dissolved or given a further mandate.

2. A Proposal for Changing the Gender-Roles Policies in the Manual

Basically, the Statement on Women in Ministry should be removed for being an inadequate articulation of the issue at stake and for no longer being consistent with denominational practice or opinion. It may be necessary to vote in a statement of some kind that explains the rationale for whatever decision has been made on this issue, but in my opinion the denomination is better off without official policy on this at all. Qualifications for eldership can be contextually applied to women and men without reference to gender as a disqualification for eldership in itself.

As for the rule which allows churches to vote by 2/3 majority to allow women as elders, this should be removed as well. Churches can then vote to have women as elders the old fashioned way: By the nominating recognizing God's gifting and calling on a person and nominating them for election to the Board. If it seems that a woman (or a man) is not equipped to lead in this regard or is only looking for self-promotion or power to make a point then that should be a knock against them. It may be that some churches will not have women who feel led in this regard or are even in the place to understand how to adapt their leadership philosophy to appreciate the different things that a woman may bring to the Board table. But removing this caveat from the Manual allows them to begin to process and prepare these things as God guides.

As for ordination, it may be that a separate committee needs to be struck up to reform this whole system. But there is no reason why the Alliance should not ordain women who have been called and gifted by God to preach, teach, and lead the church and whose money and time has been accepted by our denominational training institution for the very equipping that such pastoral offices require. If graduated, accredited, and hired, women should be ordained as well. What better way to ensure that women are taken care of the way Paul thought they ought to be?

One last thing: Whatever decision is made on this issue the denomination needs to communicate it very clearly. And if changes are made it also needs to communicate to women and men that at no point has the worth of a woman or a man rested on whether they could hold positions of leadership in the church. Many women and men are not called to lead or teach in a pastoral role. Many women and some men are also called to work full-time in the home. At no point should movement toward a more egalitarian model be taken as a slight against that calling, as if the true women are the ones out "making it in the world" or something like that. Too many women already face insecurity issues in this regard because of the message of secular feminism.

Furthermore, the goal in all of this should be speaking the truth in love as an interpretive community that rests its identity in the reconciling power of Christ. The goal in gender relations and Christian communion should also be mutual submission and self-giving love for the benefit of the Body rather than the self-aggrandizing equality with self-fulfillment as its highest goal that passes for so much egalitarianism today.

If we keep these things central I think there is a lot of promise for our denomination as it seeks to find itself in Christ and participate humbly in the work of his Kingdom.