Thursday, June 25, 2009

Destination Aberdeen

So this is Aberdeen, Scotland . . .

Our flights are booked. We're on the cusp of visa and other applications. We're sorting our belongings. I'm heading over in just over a month to try to lease a flat and find a primary school for my boys. Still some hoops to jump through, but this is really happening.

I've been reflecting on the journey to this point and my head reels with all the little moments and decisions that have added up to this moment:

Spring of 2008 and the overwhelming and humbling affirmations of people I respect who said maybe I should chase down the dream after all . . .

Summer: Still not sure, but the jobs aren't materializing . . .

Fall: We move, hunker down to prep for twins, and I start to check out schools. Put up a map on the wall to keep track of 'em all. Started with a list of something like 26. . .

Scanned more faculty pages than I care to recall for connections that jumped out. After educated guesses in some cases and painstaking research in others, got down to a list of a dozen hopefuls or so. Some stabs in the dark, some "safer" bets, some near, some far. Started crafting two research proposals and emailing professors with my stupid ideas. . .

Somehow, after pouring over the possibilities, the list gets down to six. Am I an idiot or did I just apply at six schools, none of which were in Canada? And did someone say Waco Texas? Seemed a good lead.

Since three of the schools are in the U.S., its GRE time. Show up for the Graduate Record Examination needing scores of 600, 600, and 4/6 at least. After emptying all my pockets for the exam proctor (I kid you not), I sit down and hammer it out. I do make the 600 goals, barely (somehow doing better in math than language), but leave sentence fragments for final paragraphs on both essays!

Left horribly disappointed in myself but decided not to retake it. Pretty expensive retake, and we'll let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps this is where the journey ends. . .

In the meantime, fall turns to winter. Babies. Two of them! Its a blur for awhile after that. . .

Spring 2009 and the letters start to come. Turns out that despite a 5.5 on the essays I still needed better marks on the GRE. The U.S. shut me down unanimously.

But next thing I know I get an offer from Edinburgh.
Then King's College London.
Then the University of Aberdeen.

Edinburgh's offer is a bit iffier but London and Aberdeen offer me world renowned supervisors. Anyone want to offer some money? That would sure make things easier! Apparently not.

At first I'm thinking London and a dissertation on Chesterton. But after awhile, Aberdeen is looking better in every area, albeit academically a (personally) more challenging a topic.

And then comes the fateful day: I stare at the page for awhile before finally rejecting the offer from King's London and going whole-hog for Scotland. Its one thing to feel good about a decision. Its another to finally close the deal!

Did I really just say no to the chance to study natural theology under Alister McGrath in one of my favourite cities in the world, with GK Chesterton as the focal point, and a minor scholarship to boot? Apparently so. Just praying this is one of those "roads less travelled" moments. . .

That's not to say the Scotland option is not awesome. It is. In fact, the more I investigate what I have got myself into the more I see the opportunity as staggering. Though I'd hardly heard of them even three years ago, it turns out that a potential dissertation on Karl Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation and its ramifications for the local church under Professor John Webster fulfills a deeply held passion and growing conviction of mine that i just have to study.

I'm so thankful for a wife who not only gets that, but supports it.

So, here we are. Summer 2009. Destination: King's College Aberdeen:

Still feeling over my head. Gotta learn German over the summer, and frenetically catch up on the swarm Barth scholarship going on.

And I won't lie to you: There are moments I wonder about that alternate plane of reality in which I've gone the other way, or one of the million other ways that I could have gone along the way. . .

But this is the challenge before us. God I hope you are in this. . .

Here it is then: The unknown. The promising. The daunting. The romantic. The frightening. The stressful. The dream. The reality so surreal. The hoops to jump through yet and the day coming oh so fast.

Fall 2010?: Did you know you could take a 3-D walk down the streets of Aberdeen on Google maps? Makes Union Street seems so close, and yet still so far. . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Moving Pictures

Stumbled across these videos in our old picture files. I know there are a lot of purposes for photography, and a good still can accomplish a lot (something about a thousand words comes to mind here). But as far as aiding your memory goes, I think these short moving pictures can do more to capture a moment and take you back. These ones did that for me anyway.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mad TV's Terminator 3: The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

My friend and colleague Chris showed me this video and you've got to see it. I suppose it could be taken as offensive, but I think of it as a hilarious take on Matthew 26:51-54.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Trinity Sunday with Sufjan Stevens and Andrei Rublev

Lots of times preachers will choose a topic, grab a few verses, and illustrate them to death. We call it a topical sermon. It can be really good, or it can be little more than Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Not sure what you'd call my sermons lately, but as I've been following the Christian calendar this year we've gone from Ascension to Pentecost to Trinity Sunday (today) and so I'm smack dab in the middle of a series on the Trinity. Last week we looked at the Spirit, next week we look at the Faithful Son, and this week we look at the Giving Father. I call them theological sermons. I don't use a lot of illustrations.

Except today. Today I employ the help of some of the best illustrations I've heard or seen for a sermon on the Trinity, focusing on the Giving Father.

We begin with Andrei Rublev's Trinity, seen at left, which depicts the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18. We end with it too, since Rublev invested the scene with so much Christian imagery. Today in conclusion we'll let the image beckon us to the Communion Table.

But in between we will listen to a song by Sufjan Stevens called "Abraham". I put a few words and pictures to it as a way of helping people out. I hope Sufjan doesn't mind. The song captures Genesis 22 more wonderfully than any amount of exposition could.

The story is often told to highlight Abraham's faith (or maybe Isaac's). Today we look back at it, through Christ, and see it as an early lesson in the Trinity.

If you are captivated by Sufjan Stevens at all, I highly recommend Seven Swans, or his recent epic release, Come Feel the Illinoise.

And of course, there is plenty you can read about Rublev's Trinity. For more on Andrei Rublev himself, all I really know is to see Tarkovsky's film.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Guilt Part 2

Today I walked my son to the bus stop. As we approached the three teenagers who wait there every morning listening to their ipods, I could hear one of them quite loudly from halfway down the block. Sounded like pretty hard core stuff, but I certainly don't mind. Heck, half the time that's me with the music blaring, oblivious to everyone else.

However, as soon as I made eye contact for the usual attempt to nod hello, he quickly turned his music way down. Hmm. Am I that old? Do I look that accusing and unapproving?

Ah, guilt.


Yesterday I accompanied my son to the dentist's office. He did marvelously. And the whole time I was there not a single dental hygenist, receptionist, or dentist looked at or even hinted at asking me about my teeth.

So why did I feel guilty and self-conscious the whole time?

All I could think was that no matter how much I kept my mouth closed and avoided eye contact, the hygenist could tell I drink alot of coffee, haven't been to the dentist in years, and don't floss. It plagued my mind. My mouth felt dirty and I felt ashamed. I scoured my teeth as soon as we got home.

Ah, guilt.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Barth on God's Covenant With Humanity

This is Eberhard Busch quoting and summing up parts of Karl Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation. I think this is hugely important stuff -- such that I hesitate to spoil it with introductory comments. So give it a read and I'll spoil it with follow-up comments instead:

"'Reconciliation . . . is the fulfillment of the covenant between God and man' . . . .

Barth’s understanding of the covenant has an unusual emphasis at this point when he says that God involves himself with humans despite sin. . . . if it were otherwise, God’s relationship to human beings would be dependent upon sin. Sin would either be immortalized or God would have nothing to do with humans apart from sin. As God’s reconciling reaction to sin takes place in the act of his [pre-existent] covenant will, it cannot thus be pulled into the undertow of sin.

For God, this can only mean allying himself with human beings notwithstanding their sin. According to Barth, the reconciliation that takes place in the fulfillment of God’s covenant has the character of an effective protest. Barth even speaks (and here he uses the concept in a different way than usual) of the character of judgment. Because it takes place as a reaction to sin in God’s covenant action, his judgment is the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness as he rejects Israel’s unfaithfulness . . . .

That reconciliation took place within the covenant means ‘with divine necessity’ that the Word became flesh, yet ‘not simply any flesh, any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental.’"

(Quoted from Eberhard Busch, Barth, 2008, pages 42-43; referring to Barth excerpts from Church Dogmatics IV/1- 22, 34, 71-3,181-4)