Saturday, December 15, 2007

Riffing, Stewards and the Concept of Christian Economy...

Consider this post a riff on my wife's recent thoughts concerning Christianity and environmentalism.

In her post Jinny is essentially asking whether or not environmentalism should be at the core of a well constructed Christian morality. My answer to this is, not at all surprisingly, yes. It seems to me that God has created the world and that, as the most intelligent of his creatures, we have been given the responsibility of taking care of that world. This is a very easy case to make if I'm allowed to refer to the Christian story. All I have to do is tell the story of Genesis 1-2. If I were to have any trouble convincing people that taking care of the natural world is humanity's responsibility, one would consequently imagine that it would be people who don't believe in the Christian story. Strangely enough, however, that is not the case.

The people that I most often hear condemning environmental activism are conservative Christians. Please don't take this to mean that all conservative Christians are anti-green, or even that most of the conservative Christians I know are anti-green. I'm just saying that if I meet someone who thinks global warming and climate change are lefty propaganda, that person is usually a conservative Christian. This strikes me as not only wrong, but weird.

It seems that some Christians have lost touch with their own story. I think that this loss of connection might be related to the concept of stewardship that I grew up on. I'm not sure where exactly I picked it up, but at some point in my young, evangelical Christian life, I was given the impression that stewardship and being cheap were essentially the same thing. I was taught that as Christians we are supposed to be good stewards of the money that God has given us, which seemed to entail not being materialistic, getting good deals on everything, saving wisely, and, of course, giving to the church. That all sounds great on the surface, and some of it is perfectly good financial advice, but it doesn't really have much to do with stewardship.

Stewardship has nothing in particular to do with saving money or hoarding money or spending money or money at all for that matter. The relationship between stewardship and money is tangential at best. A steward takes care of someone else's possessions, that's his job. As I just mentioned, the argument for suggesting that humanity is meant to steward the earth and all that is in it is pretty easy to make if I can just quote Genesis I will.

26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, [I have given] every green plant for food ";and it was so.

Now perhaps some daft fool will argue that this passage indicates that we as humans are allowed to do with nature as we will. Strictly speaking this may be true, a steward does indeed have the opportunity to piss away all that has been entrusted to him, but I feel fairly confident that the true master of this world will not look kindly on a race of stewards who destroy his creation. The world does not belong to us. It never did and it never will. It is someone else's possession, and consequently it seems to me high-time that we start treating it that way.

Do you know the Greek word that we translate as "steward"? It's oikonomos. Sound like any English words you know? Economy perhaps? Coincidentally it is this word, economy, that is most often sounded as the trumpet-call against more stringent environmental regulations. "It will destroy business," we are told. "It will damage the economy," cry the naysayers. Which economy? We have allowed the meaning of the word economy to be reduced to one single context, the world of capitalism. What if there are other kinds of economy? The Greek concept of economy has more to do with the management of a task or of a divine mandate. Maybe we as Christians need to untangle ourselves from our political and material task-masters and realize that their economy is not our economy. Our economy, the task for which we have been given responsibility, is to manage God's world in a way that honors him as its creator.

Given this alternative Christian economy, the question now becomes: How can we not be environmentally minded?

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Yes, it's true, the time has come...I'm finished my thesis. I hit the final keystrokes tonight and tomorrow morning I'll put all of the Word documents together into a single pdf and email it off to my supervisor for him to review. All I can say is that I'm happy and that my brain hurts. No promises of blogging anytime soon, my creative faculties are pretty much pooped out right now. Plus I've got a whole lotta renos and house work to catch up on. But when the inspiration and drive hit me again I'll be sure to let y'all know. Cheers everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Intertextuality is a concept that floats around the worlds of literary studies and semiotics (the study of signs, from literature to clothing labels). Here's how Jonathan Culler describes intertextuality:

Intertextuality thus becomes less a name for a work's relation to particular prior texts than a designation of its participation in the discursive space of a culture: the relationship between a text and the various languages or signifying practices of a culture and its relation to those texts which articulate for it the possibilities of that culture (The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature and Deconstruction).

A little while ago at work I listened to the entire The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I'm not a huge King fan, mostly because I don't go in for horror as a general rule. The fact remains, however, that King is really quite a good writer. One of the things that makes me think he's a good writer (and almost a great writer) is the magnificent intertextual layering of the Dark Tower books, particularly book one, The Gunslinger. By the close of book six King's "participation in the discursive space of [our] culture" does start to collapse into a much more self-conscious use of outside cultural and literary material. King spends less time building characters and events that we know from our cultural-creativity-soup and more time tracing the lines of where each one of those characters comes from. I suppose you could condemn King for this, but I wonder if the problem isn't that Culler's concept of intertextuality is a little bit too narrow. Umberto Eco, for instance, has stated explicitly that many of the intertextual layers of Name of the Rose were created intentionally (see his essay "Intertextual Irony" in On Literature), and this from one of the world's leading novelists, literary critics and semioticians.

The above is a fairly meandering way to suggest that both intentional homage and completely unintentional intertexture are fun. They both make reading interesting and immediate and they help to tell so much more story than is on the page. For those of you still not quite getting the intertexture thing let me give you an example from King's The Gunslinger.

The main character in The Gunslinger is the Gunslinger. He does have a name, Roland, but the character is really the Gunslinger. King describes him as tall, thin, he has hard, cold, blue eyes and is a single-minded, all-but-invincible warrior. He carries two big revolvers, one on each thigh, and has two belts of bullets criss-crossed over his chest. He wears a flat-topped hat and looks old, as though he was chiseled out of bare rock. Picture this character, place him in your mind's eye. Is there any chance that he looks an awful lot like this?

In my very first reading of the very first description of Roland the Gunslinger, all I could think of was Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven (absolutely his best acting role and arguably his best directorial offering, which is really, really saying something). I know now that King actually did have a modified version of Eastwood in mind as he designed Roland, but that the idea of Eastwood would come so completely and perfectly to my mind is, I think, a product of an intertextual relationship. It's not just that King meant me to think of Eastwood that makes this relationship intertextual. He just wanted me to think of an archetypal character and in my culture (and King's as well) that archetypal character has found its most complete representation in Eastwood's various portrayals of the darkly aberrant yet honorable anti-hero. Cool hey?

What, you might well ask, is the point of all of this semiotic gibberish? Our lesson of the day from literary criticism: intertextuality is fun. That is all.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Required Reading...

I've been pounding away at my thesis with a little more gusto than usual over the last little while and have consquently been neglecting my poor little blog and its faithful band of readers. I know I say this a lot, but sorry about that. I don't have a lot to write at the moment, but I do have some reading assignments for you all.

Recently Fred (aka Slacktivist) has been posting extensively on North American Evangelicalism's obsession with the morality of homosexuality. Regardless of where you stand in this particular debate you need to read all seven posts in his Gay Hatin' Gospel series. I'll start you off here, with the very first in the series. This is an issue that Christians need to examine more critically than we have been. It's time to stop towing party lines (whether liberal or conservative) and start finding an honest and loving way to be Christians to the gays and lesbians in our lives.

For those of you who have been following, and perhaps even shaken by, Richard Dawkins' anti-religion apologetics, you need to read Nicholas Lash's response in the New Blackfriars. In a relatively short article Lash rips into Dawkins' argument to a rather astonishing degree. I haven't read Dawkins' book, but from the excerpts I've read here and there it seems to me that Lash is right to indict Dawkins for being ignorant of the copious amount of research and literature available on religious and theological topics.

In any case, since I'm not writing anything here, you may as well go and read some of the above.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


"'I had a dream about a motorbike,' said Harry, remembering suddenly. 'It was flying.' Uncle Vernon nearly crashed into the car in front. He turned right around in his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beetroot with a moustache, 'MOTORBIKES DON'T FLY!'"
(Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, 24).

Except, it turns out, that they do. In Jo Rowling's world of wizards and muggles motorbikes do, in fact, fly (though in flagrant violation of Ministry of Magic laws concerning the enchantment of muggle artifacts, cf. the Weasley's flying Ford Anglia). What is more, Vernon Dursley knows that they fly, or at least that they very well might fly if a wizard got hold of one. Vernon Dursley knows about the wizarding world. He knows that it exists, he knows that Harry's parents were wizards, he knows about Albus Dumbledore, and he also knows by now that Harry is a wizard too. Why, then, does he continually close his eyes to the relentless truth that magic is a part of the fabric of reality in his world?

One of my good friends is an honest to goodness magician. It's what he does for a living. He makes tables fly and women vanish and he can change an ace of spades into a jack of diamonds. His name is Derek and he is the person, more than anyone else, who has helped me to see the danger and horror of that accompanies the death of the imagination. He helped me to understand how to look at the world with a greater sense of wonder. He showed me that above all we choose to see wonder, we choose to experience magic in our lives. I have no interest in knowing how it is that Derek makes things fly. People who need to know a magician's tricks have completely failed to understand what it is that magicians do. They don't understand that knowing won't make it more magical. The magic, the wonder, is in the choosing. We experience the magical and miraculous when we adjust the way that we see the world.

It was Chesterton who said "the world will not perish due to a lack of wonders, but due to a lack of wonder." All of the great accomplishments of civilizations, all of the glory and wonder of creation, and all of the art and literature the world has to offer, every miracle ever performed, are so much nonsense and waste in the hands of a person who is unwilling to see them. The same is true of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is Vernon Dursley's great sin. He has no interest in living a life of wonder. He chooses to live a mundane life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

GAHP 2, Wherein We Meet Albus Dumbledore...

"Nothing like this man had ever been seen in Privet Drive."
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 12).

Jo Rowling has explicitly stated that Dumbledore was never intended as a "Christ" figure. I can't see why anybody would ever have thought him one, but it's always good to get such things out of the way.

What Dumbledore is, is a wizard. He is, I would say, the wizard. Though it may be the case that "everything from his name to his boots was unwelcome" in Privet Drive, it is equally true that "everything from his name to his boots" epitomize what a good wizard can be. Though one might fixate upon Dumbledore's great moments of power and authority (and there are indeed many) in trying to understand the character, all that we need as readers is found on the 12th page of The Philosopher's Stone. Dumbledore is a kind, whimsical, joy filled man. He knows laughter, but he also knows pain (the broken nose, we will finally learn, tells us this). He is a man of great depth, but he does not take his own depth too seriously. What a wonderful way to live.

One of my friends once said that though Socrates and Jesus never met, they would have been great friends if they had. I would suggest the same thing about Jesus and Dumbledore. Though the Gospels never tell us that Jesus laughed I have always imagined him as a man who could live honestly in both despair and joy. He could eat and drink and enjoy all that life offers in one moment, and in the next he could lift the suffering and self-tortured up out of their mire.

There are a great many things that can be said about Jesus, and I think that all of the true things we can say are very good, but my favorite thing about Jesus is what a wonderful human being he was. In much the same way that Dumbledore is the wizard, Jesus was (and is) the human.

Not surprisingly Jesus is also, like Dumbledore, seldom welcome in the bourgeois world that we inhabit. But, again like Dumbledore, he is here nevertheless.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wise Justice...

Fred Clark has another great post over on Slacktivist (even if the title is a little bit on the nose). He questions, once again, the Bush administration's so-called "just war" in Iraq and the potential for a just war against Iran. Bush and co. have consistently claimed that the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq were and are just. The reasons that I've heard usually have something to do with Weapons of Mass Destruction (or WMD-related weaponish-type kinds of programs) or the tyranny and aggression of Sadam Hussein's totalitarian regime. Fred rightly notes that even if Bush's claims about WMDs or Hussein's tyranny are accurate (and we know now that the former claims were certainly not accurate by any stretch of the imagination), these still do not qualify for the traditional definition of a "just war."*

One of the real troubles in attempting to wage a just war is that you need to be able to determine the potential damage the aggressor may cause, the likelihood of being able to avert that potential damage, and the possibility a war might actually cause more suffering than it averts. When determining whether or not a war is just you need a very important faculty. You need wisdom.

One of the kids in my youth group back in Regina once asked me about the difference between wisdom and intelligence. I gave the fairly pat answer that wisdom is the ability to apply intelligence correctly. He didn't buy it, and rightly so. A better understanding of wisdom is found in the biblical Proverbs. Wisdom in Proverbs is a moral faculty. It is the ability to make not only good decisions, but right decisions.

The unjust invasion of Iraq is not only an intellectual failure (though it is that), it is first and foremost a moral failure. It is unwise and therefore unjust. George Bush has always been something of an enigma to me. On television he sounds, to be frank, like a bumbling idiot. But I don't believe that a truly stupid person could be a governor and then a president. I do, however, believe that a fool could do those things. What the war in Iraq, and current American foreign policy in general, demonstrates is not that Bush and Cheney and their advisers are stupid. It demonstrates that they are fools.

*I'm pretty sure that his Catholic definition for a just war is actually Thomas Aquinas' definition, but I don't have any of Thomas' works close at hand so I can't be positive.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Redemption, Dependence and Question Number 11...

When I first conceived of the previous post, 10 Questions, one of the questions that I was planning to use was, Who is your favorite obscure bluegrass/gospel musician? For some reason I just forgot to include the question. The answer is Derek Webb. A little while ago I decided to stick one of Webb's songs on a mix CD. I hadn't listened to that song or any of Webb's solo music for a long time and I started jonesing for some more Webb. Consequently I've been listening to Webb's first solo effort, She Must and Shall Go Free, while driving to and from work.

There are very few musicians, particularly musicians who have come up through and become famous in the Contemporary Christian Music industry, who have the ability to create deeply meaningful lyrical creations. Derek Webb is one of those few. Listening to a Derek Webb song is a lot like reading Bonhoeffer or Barth or Grentz or Chesterton, but with a catchy guitar lick in the background.

My favorite song on She Must and Shall Go Free (for the time being) is called Nothing (Without You). Check out the lyrics:

I’ve got the dress, i’ve got the ring
i’ve got a song that i can sing
i’ve got the bread, i’ve got the wine
but i’ve got the life i’ve left behind
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

i’ve got the law on my heart
i’ve got your love tearing me apart
i’ve got a vow that i can’t keep
but i’ve got your promise getting me to sleep
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

i’ve got your works, i’ve got my faith
i’ve got all the wine that you can make
i am the kiss of your betrayer
but i’ve got your grace on every layer
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

‘cause you see it’s all just a show
you either hate it or you don’t
and only time will tell the difference
if you get it clearly or with interference

i’ve got the race, got the election
but win or lose, i’ve got protection
i found a lobbyist in the devil
but i got salvation in a rebel
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

What Webb understands about Christianity, and what he communicates so powerfully with all of those familiar inconsistencies that often devour our lives, is that the redemption promised in the Scriptures absolutely requires dependence. By this I mean to say that I cannot redeem myself.

In the letters of Paul the English word redemption is a translation of the Greek apolutrosis (anybody have a good Greek font that works in Blogger?). What many people don't know is that the origins of the word are found in the slave trade of Jesus' day. At that point in history slavery was simply a cultural fact. Slaves were everywhere. Anybody could become a slave if his or her life just took the wrong turn.* But any slave could be freed if his or her life just took the right turn. The act of freeing a slave generally involved purchasing the slave (you really can't free what you don't own), and that is where the word apolutrosis comes from. It means the act of buying back, or redeeming, a slave. This is the concept that Paul is co-opting in Ephesians 1:7 when he says that in Christ we have "redemption through his blood." He is saying that we were captive, held in slavery, and have now been redeemed, purchased and set free. The cost of this freedom was the life of Jesus. This is why I can't redeem myself. I just don't have the requisite capital.

When Derek Webb sings "I've got everything, but I've got nothing without you," this is, I think, what he is trying to say. He is saying that the brokenness of the world, the brokenness in my heart and my life, cannot be healed by my efforts or yours. The redemption, the release from slavery, is dependent upon Christ. I am, and must continually remain, dependent upon Christ.

*For an entertaining (albeit horribly violent) look at pre-Christian culture, including the practice of slavery, check out HBO's hit-series Rome.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

10 Questions...

Every once in a while I get an email (usually from my lovely wife) that asks a bunch of fun little questions (my favorite food, etc.). I tend to find such quizzes silly and I always wish I was as witty and quick as my friends who twist every one of their answers into some hilarious (though often crass) pun. What I really don't like about these emails is that the questions are rather mundane and don't really tell you much about a person. I have decided, therefore, to create my very own 10 question quiz designed to tell you something about me. I'm not emailing this to anyone, but my readers are welcome to publish their own answers to these 10 questions (or any 10 questions really) on their own blogs or in the comments. Off we go.

1. Who is your favorite existentialist philosopher?

Soren Kierkegaard. I should provide the caveat that I haven't read an awful lot of what people call existentialist philosophy, but I've read Kierkegaard and he is often considered the father (or perhaps grand-father) of all existentialist philosophy. Nietzsche gets similar credit at times, but I've read him too and tend to think he's something of an evil bastard, so Kierkegaard wins. For the record I've also read some Heidegger and like most people I'm just proud to have understood most of the sentences.

2. What is your favorite literary guilty pleasure?

Harry Potter. I know these books are intended as children's literature, but I love them. These are some of my very favorite books in recent years and the fact that they're a little cotton-candy just makes them more fun to read again and again. I also tend to think that Rowling hits some pretty deep and important themes in her work. See my GAHP post below.

3. What is your favorite Clint Eastwood movie?

Unforgiven. This is, quite simply, the ultimate western.

4. Who is your favorite Harry Potter character?

Neville Longbottom. If I ever get to posting more of my GAHP series you'll get to know why. If not it will remain a mystery forever.

5. What are your hobbies?

I like to cook, I like to read and I like to write. For the time being these are all hobbies, though if I have my way they will all, someday, be things I get paid to do.

6. What is the best book you've read recently?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I'm actually still reading this book and I simply can't put into words what a wonderful writer Dillard is. This book is pure brilliance and everyone should read it.

7. What is your favorite blog?

Slacktivist. I've plugged Fred Clark's blog quite a few times before and I'm sure I'll do it quite a few times in the future. He is a magnificent op-ed writer, a very talented amateur theologian and his brilliant and scathing critiques of pre-millenial dispensationalism and the Left Behind books should be mandatory reading at every Bible College in North America.

8. What is the worst book you've ever read?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. This book was awful. The prose was awful, the plot was awful, the characters were awful, and the pseudo-history was simply laughable. Though I am against all book burning in principle this literary turd may just be exception-worthy.

9. Who is your favorite British Science-Fiction author/humorist?

Douglas Adams. Everybody should read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and the Dirk Gently series. If you haven't read them yet go out and read them now. I have only one warning: read these books alone. If you don't you'll feel like a tool for inexplicably laughing out loud every ten minutes or so.

10. Who is your favorite person in the world?

My wife, Jinny. She is beautiful, loving, brilliant, fun, kind, responsible and (not at all surprisingly) a damn good mommy. I should note that my little boy, Liam, runs an unbelievably tight second to his mommy in this race.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Drumroll Please...

It is my great pleasure and honor to finally announce the birth of our first child, our new son Liam Milton Toffelmire. Sorry but no pics right now, I'm a tool and forgot the camera at the hospital. Liam was born at 4:30pm, August 13th by emergency c-section. He and Jinny are both doing wonderfully now, though Liam had a bit of a rough start. He coded in the operating room and spent the first hour or so of his life with a tube down his throat. He's doing great now and shows all the signs of a happy, alert little baby. He's even starting to breastfeed pretty well. Incidentally the pregnancy, imminent birth and last minute renos on the house (which were because of the imminent birth) are the reasons I've been away from blogging for so long. I'll probably be off for a little longer, but I'll try to keep Liam updates coming. Cheers all.

Update: I've uploaded a whole bunch of pictures to our family blog. Check out the link on my sidebar.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Gospel According to Harry Potter

I know of no story that has been so publicly denigrated in recent years by the Christian right than J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. By "recent years" I suppose I mean in the past decade. Here at the end of the series it seems like most of the seriously negative publicity has died off. That being said I know that in an awful lot of Christian circles (including my own church at times) Rowling's books are considered a mere half-step above the work of Anton Lavey. This is, of course, because Harry Potter is a wizard. But what people continually fail to understand is that the magic of Harry Potter has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of witchcraft condemned by the Bible. Rowling's magic is, in my mind, a metaphor for mystery, for all that is wondrous and glorious in the world and yet remains beyond our rational understanding. And what is more, the themes of Rowling's books are deeply Christian. Her explorations of exclusion, racism, chosen-ness, grace, love, courage, heroism and redemption are almost all cribbed straight from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Which leads me to today's post. Welcome to the first installment of The Gospel According to Harry Potter.*

Wherein we meet Vernon Dursley, aka the world's biggest jerk...

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 7).

Normal. It is the overcoming drive towards normalcy, the status quo, the mundane, the ordinary and everyday, that drives the social movement we call conservatism. Due to a relatively strange confluence of historical, social and political factors we live in an age in which Christianity is considered a conservative religion. But it hasn't always been that way. There was a day when Jesus and his followers were considered threats to the status quo, rebels and renegades who consistently stood against the injustice of the established order. But the world doesn't see us that way anymore. Now the world sees us as a great pack of Vernon Dursleys.

Vernon, or Uncle Dursley as he will soon come to be known, is a ridiculous, absurdity of a man. He is self-righteous, he is blustering, he is pompous, he is in short, a jerk. Imagine Polonius adjusted for inflation and driving an Audi through the streets of London. At every turn Dursley seeks to do only one thing: maintain the status of his family. And this is where our lesson about Christianity and conservatism takes shape.

As the name implies conservatism is an attempt to maintain an existing situation. The general tendency of truly conservative Christianity (I'm speaking more of socially conservative Christianity, but similar critiques could be leveled at some brands of theological conservatism) is to maintain the status of Christianity within our society. Unfortunately that's not how Jesus himself approached the world. Read the Gospel of Luke in particular. In Luke Jesus stands in the tradition of the great 8th century prophets, condemning injustice, lifting up the poor and the downtrodden, and basically just scaring the piss out of the political and religious establishment.

One of the great dichotomies that Rowling will set up for us throughout the Potter series is between the Dursleys of the world and the Potters of the world. It is, in my mind, very much akin to the synoptics' dichotomy between the pharisees and Jesus. One of the many questions we must ask ourselves as Christians is whether we are on the side of the established order or the side of the weak and the downtrodden. The fact of the matter is that we were never called to be the dominant religion of the world and we were never called to maintain our own wealth, power and influence. We were called to serve, to sacrifice and to die. Perhaps James the brother of Jesus said it best.

"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, [and] to keep oneself unstained by the world." James 1:27

*I originally intended to make this a weekly series, but what with Liam's arrival and my more and more pressing need to finish my actual work (aka my thesis) the series is likely to be a little hit and miss to start with. Hopefully there's more to come.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

12:36 AM...

Last night at 11:30 or so I was in a parking lot that was completely full. I'm sure if you're imagining the lot in your mind's eye you are seeing it properly. It is enormous. It caters to a strip-mall that contains several small retail stores, four restaurants, a multiplex theater...and one other store. On any other day one would assume that at 11:30 on a Friday night the hundreds upon hundreds of cars in this parking lot would belong to customers of the theater and the restaurants. I'm only guessing, but last night I'd be surprised if more than 15% of the cars in that parking lot belonged to patrons of any but one store. That store, that one other store, is Chapters. Of course it is.

Last night at 11:30 I went to Chapters in south Calgary to pick up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.* I was there a full half-hour before the book went on sale. Jinny and I had long-ago pre-purchased our copy, so I went to the pre-purchase line to get my bracelet and then they sent me to the queue to pick up my book. It took me a little while to find the end of the queue. It snaked down the main aisle, through the magazine section, and then in and out of every row of books in the children's section. That's where the end of the line was when I got there. Thirty minutes later when they finally started giving people books I was right around the middle of the line. I have no idea how many people there were, but lets just say lots. By "lots" I mean hundreds and not dozens. And this is to say nothing of the many, many people who had not pre-purchased the book and were waiting in a different line to buy their copy that night. While I was in line I heard more than a couple of people express shock and amazement, and even some amusement, at the fact that so many people had come to a store in the middle of the night just to pick up a book.

Why is it that people in our culture believe that this kind of attention is perfectly reasonable for a club or a new movie, but ridiculous for a book? Say what you want about Rowling's books, but they have done one wonderful and incredible thing for an entire generation (or two, or three)...they have elevated reading. This isn't to say that kids didn't read in my day, but they sure as hell didn't stand in line for an hour at midnight to pick up a book. Harry Potter is a massive, almost overwhelming, cultural phenomenon. In my mind that's a good thing.

I got my copy at 12:36 AM and was reading about thirty minutes later. And for the record, the first 17 chapters are fantastic.

*This is normally where I'd insert a hyperlink to Amazon or or something, but today there will be no hyperlinks. Logging on to Blogger to post is the very most I'm willing to do online until I've finished reading the book on the off chance that some bastard out there is posting spoilers where I might read them. Such people should be drawn and quartered.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Busy, Busy...

Sorry for the lax blogging, as the title of this post suggests, I've been busy. I've also been tired. I've also been on holidays. Consequently my poor little blog has suffered terribly. I suspect my readers have therefore been spared considerable suffering, but since this blog is really here to give outlet to my personal opinions and to help me practice writing well (something I think we can all agree I need rather badly), I don't really care about that. I have nothing at all to say, so I thought I'd participate in Jon's little iPod game for fun. Here's today's random 10:

1. Going Down/Love in an Elevator - Aerosmith
2. Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones
3. #41 - Dave Matthews Band
4. Under Pressure - Queen
5. My Favorite Mistake - Sheryl Crow
6. Suspicion - Okay, I have no idea who wrote or performed this song, and I've never heard it before. I had no idea it was in my iTunes or where it came from.
7. The Luxury - The Tragically Hip
8. Driving South - Jimi Hendrix
9. Glad All Over - The Beatles
10. Traveling With the Experience - Jimi Hendrix

Setting aside the Suspicion thing (where the hell did that song come from??), I must say that my list kicks Jon's list's ass. Can I say "Jon's list's" and not cause people to fall into a grammatical coma? But really, the Stones, the Beatles, DMB, Queen, taste rules. Even Sheryl Crow and Aerosmith are legitimate picks I think. And just in case you think I got random lucky, here's the top ten from my 25 Most Played:

1. Stone Cold Crazy - Queen
2. Don't Panic - Coldplay
3. The Hounds of Winter - Sting
4. One of These Things First - Nick Drake
5. Hurts to Love - The Philosopher Kings
6. Caring is Creepy - The Shins
7. The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon & Garfunkel
8. Fields of Gold - Sting
9. Shape of My Heart - Sting
10. T.N.T. - AC/DC

Not bad at all if I do say so. Though I'm not sure how T.N.T. made #10. It's a good rock anthem, like all AC/DC, but I don't remember listening to it on my iPod...well, ever now that I think of it. Odd.

There you go, some more random nonsense to tide you all over until my next brilliant post. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In Print...

It is official, something I wrote has been an actual book. How did this happen you ask? Well it helps that it's not my book and that I had no idea that the book was being released until about a month ago.

A couple of years ago I was doing a google search on one of my professors, a gentleman named Mabiala Kenzo. He is a brilliant theologian who specializes in narrative theology, post-colonialism, and the works of Paul Ricoeur. One of the sites that I found was A New Kind of Conversation. The site was essentially a kind of blog where a group of theologians, philosophers, counselors and writers (including well-known author Brian McLaren) were interacting with questions about the relationship between post-modernism and the Christian faith (particularly evangelical Christianity). The really cool bit about this was that every post had an open comments section where anybody could interact with what these authors had posted. Like all blogs the unregulated posting sometimes wandered pretty far off-topic, but there was also a lot of insightful and interesting interaction as well.

So the long and the short of it is that I contributed a number of comments to the discussion and about a month ago I got an email from the book's publisher asking for my home address so that they could send me a free copy of the finished book. It arrived today and it looks like all of my comments were included (woohoo!). I did get siced by the editors in one post, but it was just for using "dunno" instead of "don't know."

You can check out the full conversation on the web site or buy the book in your local book store or on amazon. Why buy the book when I can read it online for free, you ask? The joy of the book is that the original posts and subsequent comments have been edited and organized into a much more coherent whole. The book also includes some very helpful sidebars and definitions to some of the more technical language that's being used.

So there you are, a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Setting that aside it really is a good book and some of the essays and comments are very worth the $20 or whatever it costs in stores. I leave you with the bibliographic info.

Penner, Myron Bradley and Hunter Barnes ed. A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith. Paternoster: Colorado Springs, 2007.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Brevard Childs...

Brevard Childs died on Saturday. For those of you who don't know of him, he was one of the great biblical scholars of the 20th century. He was a pioneer in the fields of Biblical Theology and Canonical Criticism and a long-time professor at Yale Divinity School. You can find the full obituary here. May his memory be for a blessing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Tale...

There is no H in the standard western musical scale. There are only 7 notes, which we we name with the first 7 letters of the alphabet, A to G. I don't remember where I heard it, and I don't remember who said it, but a well known thinker once said that because of the finite number of available notes, scales and keys the world would soon run out of original music. That was a couple hundred years ago. What this thinker failed to take into account was the near infinite potential for new combinations of and variations on old themes.

There are also only a finite number of tales in the world. I don't know how many there are, but it is a finite number. Every story you've ever heard, like every song you've ever heard, is a variation on a theme. It is an author riffing on a scale. Some people find this troubling, even disquieting. I do not. I love it. I love that I can see an author taking a well known tale, a cultural pillar, and interact with it, caressing it, re-telling it in a way that makes us perk up our ears again.

I watched El Laberinto del fauno (English title Pan's Labyrinth) tonight, and that is exactly what Guillermo del Toro does in this wonderful film. Not only does del Toro weave his own fantastic vision in and out of an ancient tale, he weaves it in and out of The Tale. I call it The Tale because it is, I believe, the most important tale that the world has ever known. We have known this tale for as long as tales have been told (it is found in the Ba'al cycles and the OT) and in many different cultures (Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian, etc.). It is the tale of the innocent suffering servant. It is the tale of one who is prepared to sacrifice his or her own blood in order to stave off the darkness, in order to drive away the night once again. This is The Tale that strikes at the very heart of our fear and our hope. It has been told a thousand times, ten thousand times, ten thousand times ten thousand times. It is a tale that God himself once told. It is the tale, of course, of Christ. If you'd like to see this tale told again in a wildly creative, disturbing and beautiful way please watch El Laberinto del fauno. That, my friends, is how stories should be told.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


We are each, so I am told, separated from every single other person on Earth by no more than 7 degrees. By how many degrees, I wonder, are we separated from the lives we might have lived and the people we might have been.

A couple of days ago Jinny and I got in touch with an old friend from high-school and college named Kerry (via facebook of course). For whatever reason this set me to reminiscing this evening. I met Kerry in high-school while I was involved with a youth program called Bible Quizzing. Bible Quizzing is exactly what it sounds like, a youth program based on Bible memorization and competition. It is every bit as hip as...well, as the word hip I guess. Nevertheless it was a formidable force for good in my life and I am deeply grateful that God nudged my path in that direction. I was involved with Quizzing from the beginning of the 7th grade until one year after I graduated from high-school (one year, incidentally, longer than most people are generally allowed to keep participating). In my second to last year the strangest, and in retrospect most wonderful, thing happened. Three of my friends who had always kind of looked down on Quizzing decided to join up.

Trevor, Trevor and Jon were all my age and the four of us were very nearly the oldest group of teens in our entire district (which was and is made up of all of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Saskatchewan and Manitoba). We were a ridiculous lot to be sure. It is important to note that my friends did not join up due to a sense of confederacy or brotherhood. They joined for the same reason that teen-aged boys do everything. They wanted to meet girls. And they did. Which is actually the point of this story.

Trevor S. met nobody, he ended up marrying somebody from our church. Good guy but not a factor in this particular story (sorry Trev). Trev P. and Jon, however, both met girls. Trevor met Kerry and Jon met Carrissa. Trevor and Kerry dated for years and that Kerry is the same as the Kerry I started this post with. She's a wonderful woman who has always made me laugh and pushed me to be a better Christian than is my wont. She is, in fact, almost directly responsible for my current theology of Scripture and my leanings towards post-evangelical/post-liberal theology (but that's a story for another day). Jon and Carrissa have now been married for about the same amount of time as me and Jinny. Through our newfound friendships with Kerry and Carrissa my friends and I met John (aka Potsy). John became (and remains) one of my very best friends and stood up for me at my wedding (and I for him at his, and both of us together for Scott at his).

That was a long paragraph with a lot of names in it. Very few people who read this blog know or care about any of those people (my friends don't really read my blog, they've had enough years of my BS already). The thing that I want to emphasize is that the simple decision that Trevor, Trevor and Jon made to join Quizzing had a profound effect on my life (and on theirs as well, but that's a good deal less important to me). Indeed without that decision I doubt very much that I would be married to Jinny today. The existential moment when I decided to actively pursue Jin was the direct result of some good old fashioned teen dating drama involving people I knew only because of that Quizzing decision. That existential moment, just in case any of you are curious, occurred on the toilet as all good existential moments do.

And so I wonder by how many degrees I am separated from the me that I might have been. What might that me be like? Without Jinny I have some suspicions that he'd be something of an annoying, selfish bastard. Even more than the me that I am is I mean (how's that for an unnavigable sentence?). Every moment of our lives we step into a new room with new doors. Each door we walk through leads to another room with one less door. Most people are relatively comfortable with this concept because it implies that we all choose our own fate. What we forget is that each door we walk through limits not only our own future choices, but the future choices of every other person in the world, regardless of the number of degrees of separation.

My life, your life, Trevor's and Trevor's and Jon's and John's and Kerry's and Carrissa's lives and all of the other lives of all the other people you know and don't know are connected. Meta-data, intertextuality, chaos theory, call it whatever the hell you like, we touch each other. We are determined by each other. And we are determined by God. By how many degrees am I separated from my theoretical spacial/temporal other self? I have no idea but I thank God for each and every one them.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Silly Usage...

I was going to call this post "Useless Words" or "Silly Words" but at the end of the day words can't actually be useless (agreed upon usage is all that meaning really is anyways), and I'm not sure it's fair to call any given word silly. It isn't the word's fault that people don't know how to use it consistently. That being said the phenomenon I'm thinking about is real. There are a great many words in the English language that are no longer sensible in their popular usage. I'm not one of those people who thinks languages should be static, unchanging, immovable. On the contrary I think the evolutionary nature of language is what makes it so fun and fascinating. What annoys me is people who say that a word means one thing but use it as though it means something else. I'm going to pick on two particular words today. I'm not going to pick on any particular person or publication, this is a general observation on my part. If you think I'm wrong or being overly general, feel free to disagree in the comments.

Scientist. I'm sick to death of the ubiquitous "scientists say" or "according to leading scientists" that we hear on television and read in newspapers. If I were to ask the average writer who uses this word what he or she means, my guess is that I would hear something about observable, empirical, reproducible evidence, about unbiased research and perhaps even something about facts or truth. All of those things are well and good so far as they go. I'll set aside in depth comments about competing epistemological points of view and the role of scientific method in the search for truth. My real complaint today is that when news outlets (and people in general for that matter) talk about scientists they are not referring to people who observe the world in a particular way and then comment on those observations (which is what scientists do). The rhetorical subtext of the common use of the word "scientist" is far more closely related to older uses of the word "priest." That is, it refers to a gatekeeper at the fortress of truth. Instead of being just a person using particular methodology a scientist is now someone who holds facts in his or her hands and dispenses them to us mere mortals who can never understand the universe in a meaningful way. I wonder if we wouldn't be better off scrapping "scientist" and speak of people who do research according to scientific methodology as physicists, chemists, sociologists, biologists, etc.

Literally. This one annoys me far more than "scientist." That's mostly because when people use it they often mean exactly the opposite of what the word means. Just this evening I heard a woman say that her friend had a baby who's head was flat, "literally like a wall." How can a boy's head be literally like a wall? Was it made of rock or brick? What this woman meant, of course, was that the child's head is similar to a wall, in that it is decidedly flat in much the same way as a wall. This use of "literal" and "literally" is particularly dangerous when people read the Bible (and other sacred texts I'm sure). People who insist on the literal truth of the Bible don't really mean to say that every single word in the Bible contains only denotative (and not connotative) value. That would be ridiculous. Take the simple example of Jesus' words concerning the person with a plank in his or her eye attempting to remove a grain of dust from the eye of another. How can these words possibly be literal? No person could ever place an actual plank into his or her eye. It is a metaphor and must be read metaphorically. Somewhat might object and say that so called "biblical literalists" only mean that the Bible should be taken at face value. If someone can tell me what "face value" is, precisely, then perhaps we can have a conversation about that. All I know is that nobody can read the whole Bible literally.

But it's late now, and scientists say that a person should try to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Plus I'm so tired I could sleep like the dead...literally.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Triumph or Triumphalism...

I play electric guitar in the band at my church. Yeah, I know, it kicks ass, but let's set that aside for a moment shall we? Just a little while ago our worship pastor introduced a new song to the congregation called My Savior Lives by the Desperation Band out of New Life Church. It's got this great little riff right at the beginning that I get to play very loud and very distorted, which is a lot of fun for me. The first time I really thought about the words of the song, however, I realized both the danger and the beauty available in the simple lyrics. I'll quote the meat here.

Our God will reign forever, and all the world will know his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and now I stand on what he did. My savior, my savior lives.
Everyday a brand new chance to say, Jesus you are the only way. My savior, my savior lives.

The king has come from heaven, and darkness trembles at his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

Like all modern worship music the actual song goes on a good deal longer but it pretty much just repeats the above over and over again. As I'm sure you've noticed the theological...well I was going to say crux but I suppose that wouldn't be quite accurate. The theological key to this song is the resurrection. Though I tend to harp on the vital importance of the Cross in Christian theology, the empty tomb cannot be minimized. It is central to the Christology and to the anthropology of our faith. The most notable biblical argument concerning resurrection is of course Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15. This passage is also the inspiration for My Savior Lives (check out vv. 1-2). It's a beautiful passage about hope, meaning, drive, and finally triumph. When Paul co-opts Hosea 13:14 and turns it on its head saying "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (15:55 NASB) he reaches down to us struggling with our most basic fears and pulls us up out of the darkness to stand alongside Christ. Triumph is a wonderful thing, and as Christians we must embrace it.

But there is danger here. The danger is that we begin to sacrifice real triumph, the power and victory of the Cross and the empty tomb, for the emptiness of Christian triumphalism. What's the difference? Triumph is about grace and the gift of new life offered to all of humanity through Christ (1 Cor. 15:22). Triumphalism is about winning, about pushing an earthly agenda, a political agenda, a social agenda that raises up "Christians" while pushing down everyone else. I put the quotation marks around Christian in that sentence because this brand of church-ianity reminds me an awful lot of some things Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

When we sing songs like My Savior Lives we have an opportunity. We can set aside the temptation to think in terms of earthly victory, of political agendas, of the kinds of victory that can be measured in dollars or votes or asses in the pew. We can move beyond triumphalism. We can live instead in the hope and grace of triumph, knowing that we serve a God who wants more than anything that death might die.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Thoughts About Thinking About Faith...

I ran across the following quote via Steven Harris who gets it from this interview with a gentleman named Liam Goligher.

Liam is concerned that the works of these theologians [advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, e.g. NT Wright] are overly complex, and that it seems it simply isn’t possible to popularise their teaching. To him, theology should be capable of a simple explanation that even a child can understand, whilst, of course, it can also be explored and discussed at much greater levels of complexity.
I don't know this man, and have no idea about what his credentials may or may not be (though I did see at another site that he uses the title Dr.). That being said this sentence is absurd and dangerous.

It's absurd because theology has always been difficult and complex. The writings of the OT prophets and poets, the theology of James and Paul and Peter and the author of Hebrews, the teachings of Christ himself...they're all complex. There is a reason why there is so much disagreement concerning the teachings of Scripture. Those teachings are sometimes very dense and require prolonged analysis and consideration, and developing a systematic theology from the Bible necessarily involves some intellectual heavy lifting.

It's dangerous because it suggests that anyone speaking in complex sentences and using polysyllabic words is somehow a less able or devout Christian. NT Wright is a great man, a great thinker and as far as I can tell a great Christian. He even writes some great devotional material that I think more Christians should read. Goligher's opinions above don't make me second guess Wright's faith or theology, they only make me think that Goligher is in over his head when he's reading Wright's academic works.

There are a great many academics in the world who believe that complex discussion about hermeneutics, the Historical Jesus, the Historical Paul, textual criticism, literary theory, etc., is important and are also devout Christians. This world doesn't need fewer people critically engaging complex issues, it needs more. This isn't intellectual snobbery. I don't think that you need to read Greek and Hebrew in order to be a thoughtful Christian, but being able to read ancient languages and complex theology doesn't preclude faith either.

Having faith like a child isn't the same thing as thinking like one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Sorry for the sparse blogging lately. I've been both busy and preoccupied with other things. Nothing in particular to say today so I figured I'd just put together a little of this and that from the blogosphere.

Consequently I am flying the face of number 2 on John Lyons' list of the 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging. This is actually one of the things I disagree with on John's list. I rather like blogs that serve primarily as collating services for some topic or another. Paleojudaica is, of course, my favorite of these. Getting caught up on everything in the news that is even vaguely associated with early Judaism is generally as simple as clicking on to Davila's site.

For those of you who don't wander about on Slacktivist regularly, shame on you. But for now just check out his last couple of posts on the roles and rights of women around the world. Make sure you follow the link to Joss Whedon's post on this topic as well, and make note of his points concerning the soon-to-be-released Captivity. And while you're over on Slack don't forget to read Fred's second footnote on his most recent post. I would like to know precisely what precipitated the second encounter with Bishop Tutu.

Finally, I want to weigh in very briefly on Simcha Jacobivici and his "documentary" The Lost Tomb of Jesus. If you want the whole lowdown on this film I strongly suggest that you go over to Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway Blog and read everything that you find on the Talpiot Tomb, it's all here. The article I want to mention, however, I ran across via Jim West's blog (another blog worth daily reading). The Canadian Jewish News gives a report about Jacobivici's film and the resulting controversy, asking him questions about the rather harsh backlash that the film has received. Jacobivici seems to key in on people who take issue with his film on religious grounds, playing the Search for the Truth trump card on these objections. "What I am doing is reporting objectively about an archaeological discovery," he says. Later in the article he summarily dismisses the objections of archaeologists by saying "I’ve noticed that archeology is not a science. It’s a body of knowledge" (can somebody explain to me what the hell that means?!). What both he and the CJN completely fail to mention is that more or less the entire scholarly community, including theologians, archaeologists, philologists, paleographers, historians and biblical scholars have explored the possibility that the Talpiot Tomb belonged to Jesus of Nazareth is highly unlikely. There are serious scholars (e.g. James Tabor) who do buy that the tomb does contain the remains of Jesus, but so far as I know not many (readers should feel free to correct me on this). It's not that I think Jacobivici is ridiculous because of what he believes, but the fact that he dismisses the scholarly community on this subject by citing his journalism credentials just annoys me.

So, there it is. An avalanche of meaningless junk. Cheers all.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Better Men (and Women) or Willful Ignorance...

I'm reading some more of the platonic Dialogues again right now, partly because Socrates is good fun and partly because I really need to return Mike's books to him and this is one of the ones I borrowed around (cough, cough) two years ago. Anyhoo, I came across a wonderful little quote. The parenthetical (and women) is my editorial nod towards inclusiveness.

Socrates: I think so too, Meno. I do not insist that my argument is right in all other respects, but I would contend at all costs both in word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men (and women), braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it.
-Plato, Meno, 86b (trans. G.M.A. Grube; Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1981).

Ignorance is a fact of life. Willful ignorance is a sin.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner...

I've been listening to a lot of Sting lately. For whatever reason over the past few years popular music has become less and less interesting to me. There are still a few bands here and there that I love, bands that speak to me, but they are few and far between. Among them, however, there is Sting. There are two songs in particular that have reached me in a powerful way. It isn't that I resonate with either of them. I don't. They have nothing to do with my life. But they are wonderful stories and there are very few things in life that I like more than a wonderful story.

I Hung My Head is the story of a man who accidentally shoots and kills a stranger. Not surprisingly this song was also performed by Johnny Cash on his American IV album. Though at first glance the song is apparently about death it is really about regret and the powerlessness of much of our lives. It is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful drama and I love hearing it over and over again. It is also written in 9/8 time. Ya, you heard me.

I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying is the story of a man who's wife has left him. Never have I experienced a song that walks the fine line between sadness and hope so well. And the truly great joy of this song is the perfect marriage between the tone of the music and the one of the lyrics. So few major recording artists truly have the ability to marry a complex emotion like loss with a musical score, but Sting does it marvelously here. The movement from a major to a minor progression in the chorus following verse 3 hits me particularly hard.

This may seem like an odd post for me (though those who know me well know that I love music), but I'm going somewhere with this. It would appear that a lot of people I know are tired and sad right now. I understand, I'm just coming out of a pretty deep valley myself. These songs helped me because they are so deeply human. They touched me with both sadness and the promise of hope. In the spirit of hope then, I leave you with a line from I'm So Happy.

I saw that friend of mine, he said,
you look different somehow
I said, everybody's got to leave the darkness sometime.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Jinny and I had a nice little date night tonight. A pleasant walk, some ice-cream from the local shop (a wonderful woman who sells right out of her house) and a movie. The movie was Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, a near-future drama/action film (generally called sci-fi, but the label doesn't fit here in my opinion). The premise of the film is that in the year 2027 no children have been born on the whole planet for about 18 years. In Cuaron's vision of the future the political and social strife present today in much of the developed and developing world has been drastically exacerbated by the progressive realization that this is the last generation of humans the world will ever see.

The film has received mixed reviews and I know people who have loved it and hated it. I don't know that I loved it, but I do think it was very good and occasionally brilliant. What this film provides better than anything is an immediate and visceral experience of political and cultural conflict. All of this comes to a head in the climactic confrontation between government and rebel forces. That sentence may sound cliche, and certainly a plot line like this in the hands of a lesser director could have been badly botched, but in this case I really felt that this moment allowed us as viewers to experience what it might mean to be on either side of a violent ideological conflict. There's also a fantastic moment where we glimpse the great wonder and the great absurdity bound up in being human, but I won't spoil that bit (it was my favorite part of the film). This one is definitely worth a try.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Two days ago, in the early evening, I walked to the bank. This may not seem like a very interesting event. Honestly in and of itself this isn't an interesting event, but it meant something to me. A realization that I suspect has been brewing for a while now finally popped to the surface of my consciousness, kind of like the little toy boat that you used to hold under the water in your bathtub as a child just so that you could watch it jump through the surface when you released it. The S.S. Insight in this little story was this: there is no better way to connect with the place you live than walking. Our society doesn't walk well. We work too far away, we shop too far away, our friends and our family and all of our entertaining little distractions are too far away. Consequently we end up driving a lot. Unfortunately driving removes our ability to experience the sights and sounds and smells of the cities and towns in which we live.

Walking to the bank was a way for me to connect to my town. One of the reasons that Jinny and I bought the house we live in is its proximity to downtown and to the river. I run by the river all the time, but that's not the same as walking downtown to the bank. Running reconnects me to God, his creation, my body, the fact that I'm terribly out of shape and the current selection of music on my Ipod. Walking reconnects me to my community. It makes me love the place where I am, and that seems important to me.

I also learned the other night that a statistically disproportionate number of late-model Sunfires and Cavaliers are owned by twenty-year-old girls.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Been busy, so no big blogging likely to happen this week. I do, however, have a quote via Slacktivist for you to mull over. Try this one on for size (and don't forget to read the whole post here):

[The] shared motto of preachers and journalists: "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A New Venture...

I've added yet another new blog to my sidebar. Called "White Bulls and Wild Goats" it is a second blog that I've started for posting concerned specifically with my academic interests. It will include reflections concerning my own thesis work in particular and the discipline of biblical studies in general. It is, I suppose, a "biblioblog" of sorts. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology "biblioblog" has become the generally accepted name for blogs devoted to the Bible and biblical studies (I didn't coin the term, but for better or worse that ship seems to have sailed). I will still be posting here, probably far more regularly than at the new site. If you're interested in the academic study of the Bible than you might enjoy the new site, if not...well you're always welcome here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Without a Trace...

One of my favorite weekly reads, which you'll fine on the links sidebar, is Fred Clarke over at Slacktivist. Most of Fred's posts deal with politics and social justice, all delivered with a post-liberal Christian twist. The real gems on Slacktivist, however, are his weekly(ish) posts deconstructing the bestselling pseudo-novel Left Behind.

For those of you unfamiliar with Left Behind and its authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, this novel and its many sequels are fictional stories about a future in which the rapture has occurred and the Great Tribulation is in full swing. For those of you to whom that last sentence didn't make any sense at all, don't worry, just wander around Wikipedia for a little bit (starting here). Anyways, one of the major premises of Left Behind in particular and premillennial dispensationalism in general is the belief in an instantaneous and bodily disappearance of every faithful Christian on Earth seven years before the physical return of Christ (called the Rapture). This is one of the points in Left Behind that Fred rips on the most. Though he certainly takes theological issue with the Rapture, a lot of his complaints about Jenkins and LaHaye's books are stylistic, especially when it comes to this miraculous vanishing. Let me give you a quick taste from his latest LB post:

Left Behind, pp. 259-261

This section of the book reads like a flashback, as though it were set years ago. Apart from the absence of Rayford Steele's wife and son, nothing in this section seems like it could possibly have occurred after the Event. But it's not a flashback:

Rayford pulled into his driveway with a sack of groceries on the seat beside him. ...

Nothing unusual about any of that. And that, of course, is the problem -- there's nothing unusual about any of that.

Rayford buys gasoline and groceries and it's all perfectly routine. The supermarket and the gas station are fully stocked and supplied and everything seems normally priced. No gas lines, no run on canned goods and bottled water. Not even the kinds of temporary shortages you might expect when snow is forecast. One might think that hundreds of rail and plane crashes one week ago might still be affecting supply lines. That the sudden disappearance of tens of thousands of workers from every step along the way -- from field to shelf, from refinery to pump -- might cause at least a hiccup in prices. That every worker at every stage is suddenly and inexplicably dealing with the loss of their children might also have some affect on the economy and the availability of goods. But no. Rayford is able to purchase everything he wants, at normal prices, and without delay (his errands, we are told, took only half an hour).

Fred is right of course, this represents some of the most mind-numbingly atrocious writing that the planet has ever seen (these guys make Dan Brown look Nobel worthy). But here's my question about J+L's rapture scenario. In any number of cases it would appear that nobody left on earth really seems to notice that all the Christians everywhere are gone. What does this say about J+L's vision of the Church and its role in the world? For that matter what does it say about their general knowledge about the way the world really is?

I don't know a whole lot about charity work, but I do know that if you took every single Christian out of the world in an instant a whole hell of a lot of people would go hungry, unsheltered and uneducated. You can rag on the Church all you like, but the fact remains that Christians represent a massive percentage of all the charitable work that goes on in the world today. We serve, we organize and we give. I don't know if we do it more or less than any other community or group in the world, but I've gotta believe that we at least make up a noticeable percentage of what goes on in the world.

Which brings me to my point. Left Behind isn't just a crappy book, it is dangerous and insidious. It's authors don't believe that the Church does anything to help the world because they don't believe that the Church should do anything to help the world beyond pure proselytization. This is just one more example of the "saved from" theology I mentioned below.

Am I the only person who thinks its sad that Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkins' Church is able to vanish from the world without a trace?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

5 More Reasons...

As of today I have just a few more reasons to love Kurt Vonnegut. I listened to A Man Without a Country today, which is a peculiar little book that Vonnegut wrote only two years ago. Though Vonnegut is generally known for his fiction (Slaughterhouse 5 in particular) Country is a short work of non-fiction in which the author basically tells us his views on life. In a meandering and roundabout way he talks about art, politics, love, kindness, death and how to piss of your parents. It's a lot like listening to a very wise and very articulate grandfather give you advice for a morning, except in this case your grandfather is one of the greatest novelists of the modern era. As I was listening I decided that there are now a few more reasons for me to love Vonnegut. Here they are:

1. He's funny...really funny. And not in a stupid way like an Adam Sandler movie, but in a dark, witty, and even hopeful way. I laughed an awful lot this morning.

2. He has no use for modern life or technology. Okay, I know that this sounds a little hypocritical coming from a guy who's blogging on a laptop while watching a TV show on DVD and not looking forward to going to work at his Oil and Gas Industry job tomorrow. I'm not quite the Luddite that Vonnegut is, but I also seriously question the need and importance of the society we've designed in North America in particular. Vonnegut rags pretty hard on our current dependence on fossil-fuels and he's right about a lot of it. The fact of the matter is that most people do indeed need their cars, but that's because we've designed cities and towns and a society in general that is completely unconscious about how unnecessarily large the distances involved in our everyday lives really are. Don't think so? Check out the general nature of life in more densely populated industrialized nations where people walk and take transit more than anything else.

3. Like me Vonnegut sees music as the only necessary proof for the existence of God.

4. Even though he's a secular humanist with no belief in heaven or hell or judgment of any kind, Vonnegut still believes that it is important to be good to each other. I've never understood how somebody with that particular metaphysical outlook can come to that particular ethical conclusion, but I'm sure glad he did. The world is full enough of people who don't care about anything other than themselves. One more person who believes in the importance of acts of self-sacrifice, grace, peace and love is just fine with me. To be honest it strikes me that Vonnegut has grasped the Gospel more firmly than a lot of Christians I've known and read (and been some days too, I'm ashamed to say).

5. Finally the great Mr. Vonnegut knows how to write. Every sentence and word is chosen and arranged with care and attention. Whether I agreed with everything that he wrote or not, reading this book was a pleasure from start to finish. A great many writers in the world today would do well to take a lesson from this master of the written word (you're damn right I'm looking at you Dan Brown!).

All of this to say that you should go read A Man Without a Country for yourself. And anything else that Vonnegut has ever written for that matter.

Update: Though I did not know it at the time of this post, the great Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday, apparently due to complications from a head injury. May his name be for a blessing.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter...

Okay people, whether you post in the comments regularly or not I want to hear you this time. You know the response.

He is risen!!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Upon the Fulcrum...

My time reading Neo-Orthodox theology a few years ago, particularly Barth, has driven home to me the centrality of the self-revelation of God in the incarnate Christ. Particularly it began to change my conception of the nature of history and the vital importance of the Cross.

It is Good Friday today. This is the day. This is the day that we celebrate what is roughly the 1970th (depends on a few dating factors) anniversary of the crucifixion of God Incarnate upon "that old rugged cross." This is the day. This is the day upon which all of history turns, the point at which God's all important program of salvation tilted towards the good. This is the day, this death day, this day of suffering and darkness, the bleakest point in the history of the world. This is the day that God changed the very course of history, and he did it in favour of his creation. Today is the fulcrum.

We stand upon the fulcrum of history when we celebrate the Cross. The day of light and life and promise is coming, but it is this day of black horror that God chose to tip the balance. We must acknowledge it. We must acknowledge that all we are - our vocation, our hope, our love, our calling, our righteousness, our power, our very gospel - is wholly dependant upon this day.

"For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:28, NIV).

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20, NIV).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


As previously mentioned I've been a little under the weather this week. Nothing serious, just a little bout of the flu or a bad cold or something. If, however, I lived in a country other than Canada there is a reasonable chance that this little bout of the flu would have killed me. Liberia, for instance, has a literacy rate of 56%, an average life expectancy of 42 years and an HIV infection rate of 8%. Oh ya, I forgot to mention that this country of 3 million people spends $7 million per year on health care. As a point of comparison Canada, a country of roughly ten times Liberia's population, spent $148 billion on health care in 2006 according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. For the math deficient among you $148 billion is not even roughly ten times more than $7 million (though I'm pretty sure that the Liberia stats are in US dollars, so that pretty near evens things out).

One of the reasons that I'm picking on Liberia here is that it is one of four countries held up as examples by the Jubilee Debt Campaign of nations that are not eligible for international debt forgiveness. This isn't just a bad thing, it is actively criminal. It is, in my mind, the equivalent of forcing a homeless person to repay me for the $5 I dropped into his hat last week including interest at prime plus one. When the person next to you is dying from hunger and you give them money to eat you've done a good thing. If you turn around a take them to debtor's court after they've eaten...well I don't even know what to call that. Despicable, reprehensible, disgusting, horrifying...oh ya, criminal, I already used the word criminal so lets just stick with that.

I'm not sure if the Jubilee Debt Campaign is an organization with Christian or Jewish origins, but either way they're using one of our words. The year of Jubilee was instituted as a part of the Law in order to create social justice within the Israelite community. The bit that the JDC is making particular reference to is Leviticus 25:28. "But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property" (NIV). That is to say, if a person has sold his land to another and does not have the means to recover it, after 49 years that land must be returned to the original family for free, with no strings attached.

Usually this is the point where I talk about how I want our word back, about how I think that Christians should reclaim the terminology that someone in the world has stolen. Not this time. Don't get me wrong, I want Christians to take this concept more seriously, but anyone who is willing to fight for a cause that will help millions of poor and disenfranchised people around the world is welcome to any damn word of mine they can find. That being said I think that perhaps we need to find more ways to support causes like the JDC. Check out their website if you're looking for ways to help.

God takes seriously our treatment of the people around us in this world. So should we.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sick Day...

I am now nearing the end of day two of my spring bout of the flu (or whatever this bloody thing is). I did try to do some actual work (thesis work that is) but I was just too sick and miserable yesterday to get more than half a page read at once. It really is true that men are giant babies when they're sick. I am at least. Either way, today I felt well enough to fiddle with my blog a whole bunch. It turns out that the new Blogger has a new layout feature thingy so I don't have to be any good with HTML (which I'm not) to do cool stuff with the page. So, check out my new lists on the side. You'll have to pardon me that pretty much everything on those lists got a rating of 8 or better. That's mostly a by-product of the fact that these are lists of things I like and making the cut of things I like, though not the hardest thing in the world to pull off, does require a rating of 7.5 or better. At least, so it would seem. Either way, I do recommend pretty much everything on those lists, though it should be noted that much of it is definitely "viewer discretion advised" stuff.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Beyond Reason...

"Ah, music. A magic beyond all that we do here."
-Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling.

There are some things in life for which logic and reason are no help at all. There are people in the world who don't like to hear this, but it's true nonetheless. I find these places, these non-reason places, most often in artistic ventures like music, writing, fine art, film and so on. There is a power in these things that transcends explanation and analysis. This is not to say that people don't try to analyze and explain, but there doesn't seem like much can be said in the way of explanation beyond descriptions about what's going on in the brain at a chemical level.

I feel that these non-reason places are the places where the spiritual world is laid open to the nerves and we can momentarily touch the very essence of our spiritual selves. It is here that we feel ourselves instead of simply thinking about ourselves. We can encounter in these times of spiritual alive-ness a brand of truth that is inaccessible to the reasonable and logical mind. What is more this non-reasonable spirituality is in many ways more important than the reasoned brand. Reasoned truth and spirituality tend to be little more than extensions or extrapolations of the physical world which we encounter each day. Artistic or emotive or intuitive truth (I'm still not sure which of those labels I like, but all of those words apply to some degree) impacts us so deeply precisely because it is both completely foreign and suspiciously familiar. We encounter in this brand of truth a remembrance of the divine fingerprint on our natures, and simultaneously an expectation of the future to which we are continually being called.

Put another way, that feeling you get when you hear great music, or read a great novel, or see a beautiful and powerful piece of art, is the feeling of Eden and Heaven all in one breath.

Breathe deep friends, breathe deep.

Friday, March 30, 2007

From vs. For...

When I was a freshman in Bible college one of my required courses was Theology I. This was essentially an introduction to Christian theology. One of the things that made this class experience unique was the fact that it was in a one-week modular format, and the other thing that made it a little odd was the fact that every single freshman in the college was in this class. Now, I didn't go to a major university for my BTh, but there were still just a little under 200 students in that class which anybody will tell you is a lot. Anyway, during one of the sessions we were having a discussion about baptism and the nature of sacraments in the evangelical church, and the instructor seemed to be pushing on the importance of baptism to the Christian faith more than some in the class were comfortable with. It was at this point that a student raised his hand and asked, "Sir are you trying to say that if a person isn't baptized he isn't saved?" The professor, after a very slight pause, answered, "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I think it's about time for a 15 minute break."

This is only a funny story if you've grown up in a conservative Christian community, because only then do you understand the vital code language involved with the word "saved" and it's cognates. When the professor said this and then dismissed the class there was turmoil and anger like you could hardly imagine. People were talking and arguing and even weeping the in hall during the break, worried about whether or not they or their friends were actually "saved." The problem was, of course, that conservative Christians (and lots of other people interacting with Christian language) very often misunderstand the depth and breadth of the concepts the surround the word "salvation." Such people think of salvation as a cosmic reprieve from the dual evils of death and a supernatural get-out-of-jail-free card. And this isn't wrong. The Scriptures speak many times about the destruction of death on the cross, and about the everlasting life that awaits those who know Christ. But, is this the sum total of the Christian experience of salvation?

You see this first understanding of salvation is a salvation from, but there is more to salvation in the Christian faith. There is also salvation for. You see Christianity is not about escaping from personal danger or achieving eternal wealth and power. Christianity is about self-sacrifice and submission, it is about service before anything else. Even Jesus, whom Christians think of as God incarnate, saw himself as a servant before anything else (Matt. 20:28). And this must be central to our soteriology, our doctrine of salvation, that we are saved for service to God and his creation. When we begin to think of our lives this way a great many problems with modern living begin to melt around us. The love of money and things becomes empty, the need for appreciation and attention feels mean and small, lust and hatred and self-gratification are robbed of their meaning. There are a great many people who see Christianity as stilted and weak because of this emphasis on subjection and service, or as foolish and puritanical because of the emptying of worldly desire. But when I find the core of these truths in my own life, when I feel like a person saved for service, I discover that I am happy, fulfilled and content. This is where I am most empowered to live in the moment, to drink life in, to laugh and feel as though I am who I was meant to be.

There are a great many things about the Christian faith that are generally misunderstood, and I think that beliefs about salvation and service are among the most tragic of these. Christianity should not be rule based, nor should it be a selfish way to escape pain or destruction. It is instead an opportunity, a chance to be the servant that you have always been called to be. Don't believe that this is important? Imagine for just one moment a world where every single person willingly and intentionally worked for the good of every other person and above all for the glory and praise of God. We call this heaven.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but one of the lovely luxuries that my current job affords me is the opportunity to listen to books on CD while I'm working. For those of you getting all jealous and up in arms please remember that I basically do data entry for 9 hrs every day, so it all comes out even in the end.

For the last few days I've been listening to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia...all of them. I've always loved these books, ever since my uncle gave them to me as a box set when I was 12 years old. That being said my recent theological and literary educational ventures have allowed me to understand explicitly something that I've known implicitly for a long time: the Narnia books represent some of the very best pure narrative theology that the world has to offer.

Narrative theology, for those unfamiliar with the jargon, is a way of talking about God using stories, parables, poetry and other narrative devices instead of using systematic propositional statements. This is pretty much a reaction to Christianity's all-but-wholesale acceptance of the modern (and particularly positivistic) program of equating fact with truth (this is a crude definition but will serve here). Narrative theology, conversely, drives towards truth using stories. A narrative theologian neither asks nor answers questions that the Christian Story does not itself engage.

This is what the Narnia books accomplish so well. Though often described as allegory they are not. Allegory is a device that creates an essentially exact relationship between two narrative worlds or systems in order to comment on the one by means of the other (usually using either imagery or personified concepts). What Lewis does with his world is to create a symbolic universe that does not mirror our universe precisely but instead demonstrates the nature of God as he might interact with a different Story. In other words not everything that happens in Narnia has happened here, and not everything that has happened here happens in Narnia. What is common to them both is the fact that God interacts with both stories. To be more precise he tells both stories. The importance and the truth of Aslan's story is found less in precise theological formulations or provable facts. It is found in the resonance of the story with our story, in that intuitive place between emotion and cognition where all that we are is involved and engaged in the experience of the narrative.

This is a fairly verbose way of saying that even now Lewis' children's stories have the ability to say more than much of the most complex systematic theology, and to say it better. Do you still wonder why almost the entire Bible is written either in narrative or in poetry?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On the Fritz and a New Blog on the Side-Bar

So I haven't posted in a few days, even after my great proclamation about posting more regularly. There is, however, a very good reason for this. My Internet has been on the fritz since last Thursday or Friday. But I'm back, and I have news. I have, in my blog link travels, come across a blog belonging to a guy I knew both in college and later while I was pastoring at Heritage in Regina.

His name is Jon Coutts and he is one of the brighter and more articulate guys I've known in my life. He also appears to be doing graduate work in theology, though I haven't a clue where (last I heard he was pastoring in Manitoba). Anyways, his blog is linked on the sidebar now and you should really go check it out. My very favorite thing that I found on his blog is his thesis work. It looks like a fun little number on natural theology and Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. If you've never read any Chesterton you need to, because he's fantastic (I was gonna say awesomer than ten awesome things, but that has the unfortunate quality of both sounding and being dumb). I don't know whether to tell you to start with Thursday or Orthodoxy, because they are both wonderful in their own very different ways. Of course you could also start with something a little lighter like his Father Brown books (e.g. The Innocence of Father Brown). Jon also has a great title for his thesis: This Side of Sunday. Man that's great. I really do believe that the ability to develop an interesting or engaging title is a litmus test for how good a book is likely to be. This, I suppose, is yet another proof that nobody will ever read my thesis, lovingly titled "White Bulls and Wild Goats: A Literary Examination of the Function of Animal Imagery in Early Jewish Apocalyptic Literature." I think the subtitle is where I really ride it off the rails, but I don't have the time or energy to think of anything better, so there ya go.

All of this to say, go and read Jon's blog. Oh, and I really am back and blogging, the hiatus wasn't my fault. Time for sleep now, cheers all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Brand New Feelings...

So for those of you who don't know yet, I'm gonna be a daddy soon. Jin is about 20 weeks pregnant right now with a little boy (we haven't named him yet, but even once we do I won't be passing it on until he's born...though suggestions are always welcome). This is a new thing for me. A really new thing. There is nothing in my life that has ever felt like this. I've never been this stressed and scared about something I'm this excited for. It's weird, in both a good and a bad way. It reminds me of the feeling I usually get right before a big test. The only difference is that this feeling seems to be pretty permanent at this point.

For the past little while I've been frustrated about these brand new feelings. They have been tiring and trying most of the time. I still feel a little like that (sometimes a lot like that), but I'm beginning to come to terms with the fact that the way I'm feeling might be just fine.

The single most prevalent metaphor for God's relationship with humanity in the Bible is the Father/Child relationship. All of Jesus' teachings, indeed his entire life, are bound up in this metaphor. I am only just now beginning to realize that the way I'm feeling is another point of connection between my experience of the world and God. He felt this way. He was worried and frightened, anxious and excited, proud and exhilarated all at once. That's how I feel, though not all at once. For me it's more like a wild whirl of variegated emotion...kind of like an affective kaleidoscope or something. But he felt this way, and that makes me feel much better about all of this. It's good to be in good company.