Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Insomnia, German, the Book of the Year, and Hockey

~ It is one thing to have baby twins who wake you up in the middle of the night. It is another thing entirely to find yourself lying in bed sleeplessly insomniac in between those wakings. Tomorrow is not going to be pretty.

~ I'm beginning to learn German. I need to get a German Bible so I can open to John 14:6 and translate Ich bin der weg, die wahrheit, das leben. That will feel good. Most of the time I just feel overwhelmed so far.

~ I just read chapter seven of NT Wright's Surprised By Hope. Not only am I convinced this will end up being my "Book of the Year" winner, but I am also convinced that NT Wright is the most important theologian in the church today. This book not only sheds light on why I feel so distant and disenfranchised with so much of evangelicalism today, but it also deepens my conviction that the answer is not leaving the church, nor falling for the latest church-strategy-trend---it is a theological renovation which gets back to ancient roots while addressing the most contemporary questions and insights. When I pop my head into books like this one I am inspired and reminded that a theological renovation is not only needed, but is possible---and, in parts of the Church, is happening. What is so great about this book is that it is not only theologically adept and researched, but is accessible. Anyone in the church (or disenfranchised with it) could, and I'd say should, pick it up and read it.

~ Despite not watching a game all year (or for several years), I am getting caught up in hockey playoffs, mostly because the Canucks are into round two. Of course, by "getting caught up" I mean I'm catching 10 minutes of it here and there and am checking the highlights and scores most nights. The deeper the Canucks go my interest will accelerate. The Canucks winning the cup would do things for my soul.

That said, my current outlook on hockey is still probably best summed up by the following snippet of dialogue on the West Wing. I couldn't find a video clip so the teleplay will have to do:

SAM: You wanted me?

JOSH: You guys go out?

SAM: Toby had Capitals tickets.

JOSH: Good game?

SAM: You know what I'd do if I... No, it wasn't. You know what I'd do if I owned a hockey team? I'd hire a sumo wrestler. I'd give him a uniform, transportation, 500 bucks a week to sit in the goal, eat a ham sandwich, and enjoy the game. My team would never get scored on.

JOSH:Your team would get scored on constantly.

SAM: Maybe, but we'd sell a few tickets.

JOSH: Yeah, 'cause sumo wrestling sells out all the time in big hockey towns.

. . . . (a little later) . . . .

HOYNES: I heard you had Caps tickets.

SAM: Yes, sir.

HOYNES: How was the game?

SAM: Not very good.

HOYNES: Have you ever seen a good hockey game?

SAM: No.

HOYNES: Me neither. I love sports, I just can't get next to hockey. See, I think Americans like to savour situations. One down, bottom of the ninth, one run game, first and third, left handed batter, right hand reliever, infield at double play depth, here's the pitch. But scoring in hockey seems to come out of nowhere. The play-by-play guy is always shocked. LePeiter passes to Huckenchuck who skates past the blue line. Huckenchuck, of course, was traded from Winnipeg for a case of Labatts after sitting out last season with... "Oh my God, he scores!" So, what's going on?

.... Anyway, I'm going to try to get some sleep.

Go Canucks. Read Wright. Gut nacht.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

King's College London Studies

King's College London has offered me a place in the MPhil/PhD programme of its Department of Education & Professional Studies in the School of Social Sciences & Public Policy. My supervisor would be Alister McGrath.

McGrath is everywhere right now. He's a scientist who converted from atheism to Christianity a ways back and who is now probably most famous for his debates with Richard Dawkins, but before that I knew him more from his books on the Reformation and introductory theology.

Of more interest to my studies at King's, however, would be his recent work in regard to natural theology (basically: the study of God from nature). In the last year he was the featured speaker at this year's Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology and published The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology. I haven't had a chance to read the transcripts of the lectures, but the book, I thought, was very good. In fact, even though McGrath didn't refer to Chesterton at all in his book, I saw good ol' GKC on almost every page.

Which would bode well for the research I'd be doing under McGrath's supervision. Here's a snippet from my research proposal: "G.K. Chesterton’s conversion to faith and subsequent apologia suggest that reason and imagination carried him a long way toward Christianity and played a large part in his defense of church and creed. The primary question I wish to research is: To what extent and how did G.K. Chesterton employ natural theology in Christian apologetics?"

Quite frankly, this is an incredible opportunity for me, academically speaking. Besides the fact that I'd be doing a PhD on Chesterton, it scratches some of the other key intellectual places I itch. I think a lot about the intersection of theology and philosophy and it would be something to have these different parts of me converge in one university setting, and it would be interesting to see where it led from there.

But at the end of the day there is more to this decision than just academics. We have to do what we can afford, and we want to do what's best for us as a family. Besides, if I go to one of the Scottish schools and study Karl Barth its not like I'll be out of my element. If anything could drag me away from Chesterton it would be Barth and the doctrine of reconciliation for the church. It just may well be time for me to diversify anyway. I'll probably still try to write on Chesterton in the future regardless of whether I get to do a PhD on him.

So there you have it. Those are the options and opportunities that lay before us and await our decision. I'm overwhelmed and grateful to have such a wonderful problem. Much has happened over the past few years to bring us around to this potential eventuality. Who knows, we may not make it. But a year ago we realized we had to try or we'd regret it. I am thankful to those who've affirmed and helped shape this vision in our lives. I am deeply thankful to my wife for her adventuresome and supportive spirit. If it happens, it happens! We hope and pray for God's guidance and provision.

Friday, April 24, 2009

King's College London Life

At King's College London I'd be doing an MPhil/PhD in the School of Social Sciences & Public Policy. I'd mostly be on the Waterloo Campus, which is pictured at left.

The round building behind it is the Imax and in the background you can see the top of the Milennium Eye. Just across the Thames is Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. So, yeah, it's in the heart of London. Below you'll see a map of two of the campus locations.
As a guy who loves the city, this would be a pretty awesome place to be. I'd take the tube in to school every day and presumably we'd live in some burough on the outskirts. Tomorrow I'll post about the studying I'd be doing, but with this school, let's face it, the main issue is living.

As much as we'd love it, London is not a cheap place to live. We've applied for some International Student Housing (like a flat at York Terrace East, pictured below), but even a two bedroom (which would be cramped to say the least) will run us upwards of 1000 pounds a month. I am a "reserve candidate" for a pretty decent scholarship (which means a few people have to turn them down and then I'm next in line), but I'm not holding my breath.

Cost notwithstanding, this could work out if we found a good area to live in. If we found a good neighborhood with the boys' school and all the amenities in walking distance, well, that could be pretty cool. These are still unknowns. Once we decided what school to attend, I'd need to make a trip out in July or early August to find a place.

My impression is that my family might not be as connected to my school life at King's as it might be at Aberdeen or Edinburgh. They seem to have a few more opportunities for student families to share life together. That's not a reason not to go to King's, but it would put an extra onus on the need to find a good church or community where we could make some friends. That's going to be pretty crucial living on the far side of the sea.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


One other option for us is to move to Edinburgh. Above is a view of Holyrood Park overlooking the city. My former professor lived and studied here and from what he tells me it sounds like an awesome place to live and school to attend. The part of the University of Edinburgh I'd be studying in would be New College, pictured below. I'd be starting out in the MTh Ethics program and would go from there.

Trouble is, its kind of a wildcard in my decision process since I've only been accepted to an MTh degree. It is supposed to turn into a PhD like the others, but seems like less of a sure thing, since I don't even have a supervisor yet (and at the others I do).

However, if all went well I'd end up studying Barth here as well, and likely under someone very qualified. I just can't be sure yet. And maybe only being accepted for this one year degree would be a good thing if it turned out we couldn't afford to live there any longer. One crazy year: in and out. But I don't really want that.

Truthfully, this is an attractive option. Its just that my offers at the other two places are that much more set-up and attractive. But we've applied for some student family housing in Edinburgh and have actually already accepted the offer to go there (the deadline was coming and they said a "yes" that later became a "no" was better than a "no" from the get-go).

So, we'll see . . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Aberdeen Studies

If we moved to Aberdeen I'd be taking Systematic Theology in the divinity school and I'd be studying Karl Barth. I'd start out as an MPhil student and progress into the PhD as long as things were going okay.

The topic I proposed and had approved for dissertation research is as follows: "In light of Karl Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation, how should the objective reality of Christ's forgiveness of sin actualize itself in the subjective experience of interpersonal relationships within the Church?"

Basically the idea is to study how Barth envisioned his lofty and exciting doctrine of reconciliation working out in churches. How would they look? Considering the many things churches (wrongly, I think) rally around now, I'd love to come out of this with a contribution of some kind to make to a different kind of ecclesiology. That would be great.

My supervisor at Aberdeen would be John Webster. He has written and edited books about Karl Barth and also the profoundly interesting Theology of Reconciliation.

I was reading Webster's "Intro to Barth" the other day and it gave me a big heads up on the kind of teacher he is and the kind of student he looks for. He said the ideal Barth interpreter would be one who took him seriously as one of the classics (i.e. read him in his original language) and who went into it with the desire to do church theology. Then he concluded with a quote from Barth which shows his approach to theology:

"Bound to its subject matter ... [theology] enjoys complete freedom of inquiry and doctrine.... It accepts no instructions or regulations from anyone; it even serves the Church in the independence of its own responsibility. And since the God from whom it takes its name is no dictator, it cannot behave dicatatorially. Bound only to its subject-matter, but also liberated by it, the teacher of theology can have and desires to have only pupils who are free in the same sense."

That kind of learning excites me. And when I was at seminary, I won't lie to you: reading Karl Barth was a high. I'm not even joking. I can't imagine enveloping myself in Barthian studies for three years.

Of course, I'd have to learn German. I've started poking my nose into it, but that is somewhat daunting.

This opportunity at Aberdeen offers me the chance to get right in on one of the most exciting and inspiring topics in theology today. It would challenge me, get me thinking about the church, about a more holistic understanding of redemption (reconciliation), and it would (hopefully) prepare me to aptly teach and write about theology in the future.

So, that's what awaits in Aberdeen, best as I can tell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aberdeen Life

In the upcoming weeks my wife and I may well be deciding to move to one of three possible locations in the United Kingdom. In the next few days I'll have a post listing the attractions to each. We may end up staying home, but if we move, these are the options, in alphabetical order. First:

Aberdeen, Scotland

This is the skyline of Old Aberdeen, I think. In other words, I imagine there would be the historical part of the city and the more modern looking part. My impression is that this is facing south-east, but I could be wrong.

Apparently the University of Aberdeen is 15 minutes walk from the ocean. One peice of propaganda claimed you could see dolphins from the shore sometimes. That would be something. I guess there are castles and parks and highlands to check out too.

As you can see from the map, Aberdeen is actually pretty far north. Further north than Edmonton, Alberta, where I live now. I mean, look at it, its almost Norway for goodness sakes!

But word on the street is that the 5 1/2 hours of daylight in the winter is a bigger deal than the cold. You get frigid winds but none of this sub-arctic -40 stuff like in northern Canada. I guess you'd be wearing hoodies and jackets all year though. I don't mind that.

One other interesting thing I just found out is that my Coutts family roots go back to McDuff, Scotland (which is right about where the "O" in Scotland lands on the map there). So that's kind of cool. Maybe we'd get there and find we had long-lost wealthy relatives with a parcel of land they want to give us in the highlands.

Anyway, here's the legendary part of the school I'd be attending. Its officially King's College, Aberdeen, in the University of Aberdeen.

Personally, Aberdeen has a lot going for it. It is a bit cheaper than the other front-runner, it seems to have more inroads to community life for families of students (although it is hard to tell), it is in a cool part of the world, and it seems like the primary school system would be pretty good and accessible for my kids.

That's the city and the school. Tomorrow I'll post about the teacher and the topic.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Surgery and Life Decisions

Early Monday morning I go in for surgery to clear out my sinuses.

My family will tell you this has been a long time coming. My brother theorizes that I have an extra set of teeth lodged up in my nasal cavity. I think he saw it on a freak documentary or something. My family doctor said (and I quote his medical assessment word-for-word) its actually just that I'm "all full of snot up there." Nice.

Anyway, I'll be put under for this, and will be there overnight. I've never gone in for anything like this before. I love how I'm not supposed to drink anything after midnight the night before, and we're talking nothing; not even a sip of water from a toothbrush.

And the real kicker is that they recommend I do not make any important life decisions within 24-48 hours of being put under. That's convenient, since my wife and I needed another reason to put off our decision another few days about where to live in the fall! We're literally weeks, maybe days, away from deciding (click for pictures):


Eight months ago when I started the process of seeking out the possibility of PhD studies I was winnowing down a list of 26 or so potential schools in Canada, the US, and the UK. I took the strategy of figuring out two topics I'd want to study and proposing them to potential professors. Based on positive feedback I'd go from there.

This got me narrowed down to a list of 6 schools I'd actually apply for. 3 in the US and 3 in the UK. One gong show of a GRE later (okay it wasn't that bad, but obviously not good enough for the US!) and I'm left with 3 choices: All in the UK.

Eight months ago if you told me I'd have even one choice I'd have been out-of-my-mind overjoyed! So I'm not looking a gift-horse in the mouth, whatever that means. But, still, its a tough call. To be honest it may yet be we can't go. Its an expensive move for a family of six. Maybe I should have thought of that back when I had my list of 26 schools!

But the momentum here seems to be that we may try to give one a shot (if moving across the ocean, incurring massive debt, and embarking upon a life-dream/majorly difficult goal can be correctly identified as the sort of thing you "give a shot"). We will have visa applications and all still to do, wo we pretty much have to decide by early May.

Just don't ask me for a decision in the next 48 hours. I'll be having the snot drilled out of me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Out of the Comfortable Quiver: The Note

Let's not pretend this is easy.

Hunched over one of the twins changing a diaper, my ears were perked and my back straightened by the conversation of wife and son unpacking his school bag at the bottom of the stairs.

-- "Hey 'Lij . . . . Where did you get this note?"

-- "Oh that . . . . Someone on the bus gave it to me."

-- "Were you being mean to someone?"

-- "No."

-- "Then why would someone give you this?"

At this point my nose had peaked round the corner and I'd made my way over to read the note. In a child's scrawl, trailing off almost indiscernably at the end, it said:

If you bully me then I will have to get an adult involved.

--"Who gave this to you?"

-- "One of the bigger kids on the bus."

-- "A bigger kid?"

-- "Yeah, a grade oner. Christian. He wrote it for me."

-- "He wrote it for you?"

-- "Yeah . . . . I told him what happened and he said to give this to the mean kids."

-- "Oh were some kids at school being mean to you?"

-- "They just hurt me a little bit. Pushed me and I fell and hurt my knee."

When we saw the bruise the hair on my neck stood at attention--angry--against who I'm not sure. Its weird because unless it gets worse there is not a lot we can or should do.

A week later, calmer, but alert now too. Some decent chats: Kid-friendly shades of turn the other cheek and put away your sword; wise as serpents and innocent as doves---how to get out of a jam kind of stuff. He gets it a bit, I think. No more bruises so far, but there are no guarantees.

I won't pretend that week was not deeply disconcerting. The sense of helplessness is startling. There are all sorts of kids out there coming from all sorts of situations, and mine is out there with them; one of them.

But there are also big kids on the bus who write notes for little kids, and I wish I could tell them they're my heroes. They'd probably be all like whatever old man.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is This Really Happening?

I like going to parades with my kids. And no matter what the array of lame and/or amazing "floats", when these guys go by its always a shake of the head and "Is this really happening?"

"Did I just see that?"

"I don't understand."

I think Shriners do some good charity work. I don't know, but I think so. I hope so.

I attended the Shrine Circus recently, and though they spent a good half hour parading themselves around the place in front of the captive mostly young audience and then belaboured to introduce themselves---they didn't really tell us anything. What they did do was tout their commitment to provide "affordable family entertainment," and even though they took every opportunity to sell incredibly overpriced must-have kids' merchandise to can't-say-no-parents and brief and boring animal rides for safari-like prices in the lengthy intermissions while parents had to find a way to keep antsy children at bay---I almost believed them!

So I hope they do some good charity work. I don't say that to be mean. But does anyone even know what these guys do? Aren't we sort of not supposed to know? I guess I might be okay with that, but I get sort of curious whenever the mini-cars and marching bands enter my life again.

I'll say this for them, though, they sure know how to stimey a parade-goer. And I think I have them to thank for over half of the bagpipe-marching-bands I've ever seen, which I don't see nearly enough. So, despite knowing next to nothing about the Shriners and not being sure I even want to know, I have to tip my hat to them. I love a good bagpipe-marching-band.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Something about Holy Saturday really resonates with me.

Its that in-between day, between "it is finished" and the evidence as such. Or at least we see that now.

At the time what did they think; feel; do?

I guess I just think so much about how we ourselves are in an in-between time, between "he is risen" and the full experience as such.

We still live with death and suffering, and Jesus lives with us. But he wept in the face of it when he was here, and though he's raised he did promise we'd have trouble in this time, and we'd have to be patient as God was being patient, not wanting anyone to perish. Of course he also said to take heart, because he'd overcome the world.

But like I said, we're living between the "it is finished" and the full experience. He isn't going to feast again like he did at the last supper until the kingdom has come in full.

I don't think I'd like Holy Saturday if I didn't know what was next. But something about it puts the peril and the adventure; the vital relevance and the yearning hope of this faith in focus.

One website describes Holy Saturday (in Latin, Sabbatum Sanctum ) this way: It is the 'day of the entombed Christ,' is the Lord's day of rest, for on that day Christ's body lay in His tomb. We recall the Apostle's Creed which says "He descended unto the dead." It is a day of suspense between two worlds, that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World. For this reason no divine services are held until the Easter Vigil at night. This day between Good Friday and Easter Day makes present to us the end of one world and the complete newness of the era of salvation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ."

As a pastor in particular, between the busyness of Good Friday and Easter Sunday (and in the face of their inevitable failure to capture the significance of those events), there is something about the quietness of Holy Saturday that is special as well. It is a day to ponder, and let life speak for itself, groan for itself, breathe a little bit in the meantime, and wait. We look back, we look ahead, and here we are. We live in light of passion week, without denying where we are.

Yeah, there is something about this day that really resonates with me.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Go Padraig!

I don't particularly like golf, nor do I intend to watch much of it in the future, but I now have a favourite golfer.

Padraig Harrington.

There is no telling what makes you decide to begin rooting for a team or an athlete. Some folks just cheer for whoever is hot; winning; has the coolest uniform. That used to bother me but I don't care that much anymore. That said, the reward is greater and the journey is more fun if you just choose a team or player early and stick with it.

But where does it start? Often it is a chance event, like catching a live game at an early age or just growing up with a team. Sometimes it is something as minor as a logo or as central as a player who catches your eye early and it just snowballs from there.

For me, Steve Yzerman made me like the Red Wings when they dwelt in the cellar. I cheered for years, they won a few Stanley Cups, he retired, and I'm not a Wings fan anymore. About seven years ago I caught Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning working their magic one Monday Night and I was hooked on the Indianapolis Colts. Cutting my knee open falling from my chair in agony when they lost in the playoffs one year only deepened my love. I almost randomly chose Liverpool a half dozen years ago and slowly grew to like some of their mainstays (Gerrard) and younger recruits (Torres!) as time went on.

But then there are these side-sports that you catch once in awhile, like golf. I golf once a year and have a few relatives who are into it, and end up seeing it on TV sometimes. So it can help to have a player. But I never have.

Until last week.

Padraig Harrington.

He's won a couple major tournaments this year with Tiger Woods injured. But that's not why I've decided he is my favourite golfer. It is much simpler than that. In fact it is as simple as the following 20-second portion of a five minute interview on PTI (Pardon the Interruption):

PTI: "How did those victories change you at all?

Padraig: "I don't think too much has changed really. Its certainly heightened my profile . . . . (laughter)"

PTI: "I wonder, though, if you have changed your expectations of yourself, just based on the stellar way you have played the last couple of years?"

Padraig: "You know, (pause) I would like to tell you I have, but I have a very strange outlook on golf: I play totally based on fear. And, you know, I'm always worried that I'm going to hit a bad shot, or whatever is going to happen.

I thought winning three majors it would change; I thought I'd be able to walk up to the first tee, and puff out my chest, and own the first tee, but I didn't, I'm just the same old guy who plods along, and, you know, I tee it up every week, I'm worried about missing the cut, I'm worried about hitting bad shots, I'm worried about the out of bounds down the left---all of things are going through my head. . . .

It really didn't change, even though I thought it would change, it just didn't happen."

So candid. So fragile. So fearful and self-conscious, even in success. Especially in success. So like me. And so honest about it. What a guy. I'm rootin for you in the Masters Padraig!

When is the Masters anyway?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reliving Paris, and Home

Relaxing at the river Seine.
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of the side chapels.

Tracing the hunchback's steps.

The gargoyles overlook the city.

Back down to street level. The church is overrun with disrespectful tourists. But I guess its keepers are more gracious than I.

Everyone jaywalks halfway for this photo, and it is actually a bit harrowing. But worth it.

A sense of the scope.

We hung around down below 'til nearer sunset.

A long way down.

We stared at the lit streets forever.
The spotlight is actually four spotlights.

Goodbye Paris.

The cliffs of Dover. Along with Iceland, a nice bonus finish.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Reliving Paris

One year ago Monday . . .
When one of the tunnels is awhile in opening to sunlight, it's: "We're not underwater now are we?" Next thing we know it is the French countryside.

And the streets of Paris.

Walking past Notre Dame to the Louvre we run into my aunt, herself on a stopover on the way to Africa. Of course we forget to prove it with a photo of us. But here's a beauty of the cathedral.

Inside the Louvre, looking down at its central courtyard.

I like how you can see my wife seemingly in amongst these ancient figurines.

Statues galore.
A sense of the scope. You need to take a lot of sitting breaks.
One of her favourites.
One of mine. I love the look on Lazarus' resurrected face.
Outside, for another sitting break. That was a lot of walking in there.

Back to the hotel we see Notre Dame again. Promises of tomorrow.

The street outside our hotel room falls near to dusk.

My wife exhausted, I take to the streets for a couple hours myself. I don't smoke, but for some reason I wanted a cigarette really badly. Weird. I can't remember what this building was. I think it's the Pantheon.

A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Can't wait for tomorrow, and yet sadly it will be our last on this adventure.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Reliving London

Our last day in London, a year ago Sunday, we awake to big flakes of snow out our window.
King's Cross Station is down the street from our hotel.

We arrive at St. Paul's in time for their worship service, and in time to see snow on the dome.

After that it's off to Tower Bridge.

On Tower Bridge.
The GKC collection was closed. Still a fascinating visit.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Pub to Charles Dickens, Chesterton, and others. Also closed. Oops. There's St. Paul's in the background.

Elsewhere for supper. The air conditioner vent buzzed loudly overhead (the things you remember), but it was otherwise nice and quiet.

One last peak at Big Ben, and the Millenium Eye across the way. In the morning it is off to Paris.