Monthly Archives: March 2011

When Enough is Enough

*****I posted this over at Political Jesus this morning, and have decided to post it here as well.******

So I Was Going to Post About My Reflections on ‘Love Wins’…

…but I don’t think I’ve got the heart to do it anymore.

I’m halfway through the book. It arrived yesterday.

I was going to write about how the first chapter of questions are all the questions I had before I became a Christian, and in the first year after becoming a Christian.

I was going to write about how this book is excellent for those at a lay-level or those on the outside who are wrestling with their negative stereotypes of Christianity. I was going to write about how I know several people who would benefit from this book immensely.

I was going to write about how annoying the one-word sentences were, at first, but then they grew on me.

And then I saw this comment by Tim Challies, on his daily A La Carte, in which he links to Denny Burk’s blog:

“In this rather emotional interview, Rob Bell says that other Christians have slandered him. It always amazes me how quickly the criminal becomes the victim—how the person who sins so quickly tried to deflect the attention away from himself.”

And then I read Denny’s blog post and all the corresponding comments.

And I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. I refuse to participate in all of this mess. There is no Christian charity. There is no love. There is no peacemaking. There is no brother/sister-hood being demonstrated in this chaos.

I feel physically ill.

Christian Women in Academics: Panel Discussion

I participated in a panel discussion at Briercrest College on Monday night. Four of us, at various stages in our graduate studies, shared with the students some of our experiences. One of the panelists had just been accepted into an MA program; I am in the midst of my MA; one panelist is completed her MA; and the fourth panelist has completed her doctorate and is now a professor.

Interestingly, I was the only one in a seminary (theology/biblical studies) program. The other three were all in humanities programs (english and history) at secular universities. This made the conversation diverse, as there are some differences between a religious studies and a humanities program.

Despite our different programs, our experiences shared several common traits:

First, graduate studies always seem to take longer than expected. If it’s a two-year program, it will likely take three or more. This is because programs are designed as if school is the only thing in your life, and anyone who is trying to accomplish a school/life balance will find the program taking longer.

Second, three of the four of us are married with children and the question was brought up about balance and priorities. While we all had different examples of what this looked like, the common denominator was having a spouse who was not only supportive, but also encouraging and actively involved helping to find a way to carve out time for the school work (i.e. flexible working schedule, assisting with childcare, etc).

Third, graduate studies, even in the humanities, helped with our spiritual formation and how we view the life of the church. One panelist talked about how doing an entire degree that looked for themes and threads and commonalities across different narratives in her graduate research, gave her the tools to put together worship services that are thematically consistent and are structured in such a way that the entire service tells a story from beginning to end.

Fourth, we all agreed that the programs we were in are not money-makers. In fact, the chances of coming out of our programs and getting that big paycheck are pretty slim. We all are doing our studies because we love them and see value in our studies.

Because I was the only one speaking from a seminary program perspective I tried to bring up some of my unique challenges, without being too negative. I reiterated that I love my program, I love my classes and I love theology, but that does not mean that there haven’t been more than a few struggles. I did preface my comments by saying that the challenges I’m currently facing could be related to the fact that I’m adjusting to major culture shock coming from Ontario to rural Saskatchewan, and that perhaps in a year or two, these current challenges will have resolved themselves accordingly. (Have I mentioned that it is the end of March and it’s still freezing cold? How do people live out here with 6 months of winter?)

A. Very often I am the only woman in the class. When there have been other women in the class, we are in the minority, and more often than not, I am the only theology/biblical studies major (most of the other women in the classes tend to be counseling students).

B. With the majority of classmates being male, it is a challenge to make friends. The guys are very protective of their relationships with their wives (which is a good and noble thing), but very often I have very little in common with their wives. (Try telling a Barth joke at Ladies’ Bible study on Wednesday mornings. It doesn’t go well, hahaha).

C. There is a community assumption that I’m having a hard time adjusting too. This has been played out countless times in the last year as I meet new people. And almost every conversation looks exactly like this:

Them: So you’re new here. Is your husband in the seminary?
Me: No, I am. I’m working on my master’s.
Them: Wonderful! So what do you think of our counseling program?
Me: I’m not in the counseling program, I’m in the theology program.
Them: (physically take a step back). Oh…Well…Isn’t that…nice?

D. Not so much related to gender, as to my introverted nature, I haven’t found a professor that I can turn to in a mentoring capacity. This probably isn’t a serious issue this year, but as I get closer to my thesis I may need a little help finding my specific area of research, and definitely need some encouragement through that whole thesis-writing process.

At the end of the panel discussion, we were to offer some practical advice. Here were my suggestions, as related to seminary programs:

1. Do your research. Research the school, the programs, the classes and the professors.
2. Many seminaries will let you take one or two classes without actually enrolling in a specific program. This is a great way to test-drive the school, and yourself, to see if you and graduate studies are suited to each other.
3. Find a program that has a schedule that works for your lifestyle. Some programs are standard classes: 5 days a week, 5 classes a semester. Others are run in modular format with a week-long intensive class, followed by 6-8 weeks of time for you to do the post-course assignments. Both models have pros and cons.
4. Just because a school accepts and affirms women in graduate studies/women in ministry, does not mean that they have a large female student population. This isn’t a good or bad thing, just something to be aware of, especially since it may be lonely being the only female in one or more classes.

Religion in Canada

Most of the major media outlets have picked up the story that, mathematically, religion in Canada and several other countries will become extinct (see here and here as examples). Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby has weighed in on the conversation, pointing out that just because someone claims ‘no religion’ at one point in their life, does not mean they claim ‘no religion’ for the rest of their life.

My own Project Canada national surveys have found that over a five-year period, one in three adults who say they have no religion “re-affiliate,” identifying in most cases with the religion of their parents. Within ten years, the figure increases to two in three. “No religion” clearly is a temporary category for many people.
Those projections about “no religion” levels also have a second, closely-related flaw. Religious marketplaces in free-market settings like Canada are dynamic and ever-changing. As my colleague and friend, Rodney Stark, has pointed out, the increase is the number of people with no religious identification provides an opportunity for religious groups, older and newer, to increase their market shares. It’s a case of demand awaiting supply.

My thought on the subject can be summed up with this comic:

Panel Discussion

On Monday I will be participating in a panel discussion at Briercrest College on Christian Women in Academics.

Here are the questions that will guide the discussion:

1. What was the process that led you to further academic study, or to pursue an academic career?

2. What type of research topic(s) interests you and why?

3. What are some significant challenges and surprises that you have encountered in the course of your studies?

4. To what extent do you see your academic study or research as an expression of your Christian calling or of your discipleship? Explain.

5. What is the relationship between your academic work and your spiritual formation?

6. What advice or tips would you give someone who was considering further studies or research?

I may post some of my answers to these questions later in the week. In the meantime, prayer for the discussion would be greatly appreciated. Hopefully I’ll be able to encourage some college students to pursue further academic study :).

Once Again It Comes Down To Only Two Contestants

Rachel Held Evans has a good post up on her reflections on the future of evangelicalism. It is thoughtful, and reflective of what a lot of young evangelicals are thinking.

Her main question:
Can young evangelicals get along well enough to create a new generation of evangelicalism that includes both of these groups?

By both groups, she is referring to neo-Reformed, new Calvinists, and the emerging or ‘new’ evangelicals.

Sigh. Once again, an entire part of the umbrella of evangelicalism is excluded. What about the Wesleyan-Nazarene-Free Methodist-Arminians? Are we just not contentious enough? Are we just such a small part of evangelicalism that we can be ignored so easily?

Maybe, though, it’s good to be ignored. Maybe it’s good to not have a dog in this fight. Maybe it means that we’re doing a good job of keeping our heads and hands and feet firmly rooted in loving God and loving others and are so busy ‘being’ the church and proclaiming the gospel, that we don’t have time to worry about these culture-wars. Maybe? Sort of?

But if Rachel is right, and this tug of war will go one of two ways, where would the W-N-FM-A fit?

In some ways we’re too conservative for the emergents. In others, we are too progressive for the young, restless and reformed.

In many ways it feels like a divorce. We have two parents bickering, and some how we’ve managed to become the child stuck in the middle. The adults are so busy yelling at each other that they don’t see who they are neglecting. Maybe, if the two parents just shut up for a minute, and listened, they’d realize that someone other than themselves might have the ‘answer’, the ‘way out’, the ‘solution and resolution.’

Or maybe we’re just as cantankerous and flawed and broken. Maybe that’s where grace comes in. Grace from Jesus to the entire Church; Jesus who loves his Bride despite her faults, and desires to make her white. And grace from us to each other. Are we capable of extending grace to our brothers and sisters? We don’t have to agree, but can we love? Can we respect? Can we acknowledge the gifts and strengths in our siblings and thank God for them?

Scriptural Interpretation and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr

Dr. Susan Wendel has had her dissertation published. Check it out:

Scriptural Interpretation and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr

From the publisher:
Scholars of Christian origins often regard Luke-Acts and the writings of Justin Martyr as similar accounts of the replacement of Israel by the non-Jewish church. According to this view, both authors commandeer the Jewish scriptures as the sole possession of non-Jewish Christ-believers, rather than of Jews. Offering a fresh analysis of the exegesis of Luke and Justin, this book uncovers significant differences between their respective depictions of the privileged status that Christ-believers hold in relation to the Jewish scriptures. Although both authors argue that Christ-believers alone possess an inspired capacity to interpret the Jewish scriptures, unlike Justin, Luke envisages an ongoing role for the Jewish people as recipients of the promises that God pledged to Israel.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Over at Patheos: Is It Time to Write the Eulogy? The Future of Seminary Education.

The church uses seminarians to fill the chinks in its clerical armor, appointing them to serve in churches long before they have completed the education that is needed to do their work safely and with integrity. Denominations have left seminarians to pay for their educations, saddling them with debt that they cannot comfortably repay because beginning salaries for clergy are often below the poverty level. And, at the same time, they have offered alternative routes to ordination bypassing seminary entirely, leaving those who do go to wonder why they worked so hard to accomplish the same goal. What we will never know is how many prospective clergy are lost because they conclude that if the ministry is something you can do without preparation it isn’t really worthy of their attention.

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Emily writes about being a Theologian Mom:

…Second, there is a considerable amount of occupational humility to be found in being a theologian mom. Many would consider theology to be one of those “ivory tower” academic fields. That’s all well and good; as long as you understand that my ivory tower is covered in snot, milk stains, Cheerios, and dirty diapers. In light of the constant and immediate needs of my children, it is crystal clear that what I do is not the most important thing. I will leave the office early simply to pick up bananas and blueberries for my son (whose aversion to vegetables means that we eat a lot of fresh fruit at our house). I will forgo grading papers in order to cuddle and coo at my daughter, who delights in (and desperately needs) my interaction.

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Tim Challies laments the ‘supposed’ new evangelical virtues: Doubt, Opaqueness and asking questions.

One might say that asking questions without the ability or willingness to answer them is dangerous, misleading, even irresponsible. Jesus loved to ask tough questions, undermining false faith. But he would always return with truth to shore up the cracked foundations. Many leaders today feel little need to do this. They are content to undermine, to cause doubt, without responding with clear truth. There is no virtue in this.

(Still working his argument through, but I’m wondering about his suggestion that Jesus would always respond with clear truth after asking tough questions. I’m thinking of the number of times Jesus is purposefully evasive, and people leave his company wondering, ‘what the heck?’)

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Speaking of virtues, RJS over at Jesus Creed asks whether ambition is a virtue or a vice.

I’m skeptical. It seems to me that ambition is playing with fire. It is not inherently negative, in fact it is good to have goals and to work for those goals with perseverance. But ambition uses people, destroys relationships, and destroys community. Ambition is intimately coupled with envy, pride, and perhaps greed. We are fully embodied creatures and ambition feeds on our chemistry and biology and it shapes our natural responses, it is addictive. I’ll go one step further. Ambition, although not always clearly recognized and acknowledged as such, wreaks havoc in the church.

Some Days My Emotions Need Manipulating

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more than one person say something to this effect:
Contemporary worship music is emotionally manipulative.

And it’s true. The question is whether or not manipulation is necessarily a bad thing.

As many of you know, I’ve been attending an Anglican church in this last academic school year (see my posts on my Adventures in Anglicanism). Through this, I’ve come to reorient myself to speak of worship as the entire service, rather than just the music portion. So, in what follows, I’m going to try to be careful to say ‘worship music’ and not ‘worship.’

This particular church is fairly traditional in its choice of songs, though it has attempted on several occasions to bring in some more contemporary hymns.
I’m not anti-hymn. Hymns, when done well, are extremely powerful. But there has been more than one occasion in which I can’t help but wonder if they’re so concerned with being ‘reverent’ in how they play the songs that they lose the emotion and feel of the hymn. On several occasions, the solemnity with which they have played the processional hymn, for example, has managed to turn it into a funeral dirge.

But at least they’re not being emotionally manipulative.

I popped into seminary chapel last week. There, they were doing some fairly standard ‘evangelical’ praise music. It started with just the guitar and lead vocal. By the chorus, the keyboard and backup vocalists had joined in. At the end of the song, the instruments dropped off, and only the voices sang. There was movement in the music, and the team created a sense of awe of wonder and excitement. I was emotionally manipulated. My hands were raised. My eyes were closed. In that moment, my emotions were driving my worship.

And it was a good thing. I hadn’t realized how dry I was. I hadn’t realized how, in the last couple of months, my worship had become all about my head. There had been no heart in my worship.

25 years ago, Les Miserables opened in London, and was roundly panned by critics for being ‘emotional drivel.’ The producers, upon hearing the reviews, were gearing up to pull the plug. They called the box office to find out how many refunds were being issued for tickets. They couldn’t get through. Finally, they got through. The entire run was sold out! The audiences had loved it. The ‘emotional drivel’ was, for the audience, an ‘emotional connection.’ In a short time, the production moved to the West End, and then around the world. 25 years later, a sold-out concert at the O2, broadcast on PBS and available on DVD, continues to evoke a strong emotional response from viewers. Fans know that, when that final round of “Do You Hear the People Sing” starts, their hearts swell, and they leave the theatre with a song on their lips and their toes tapping. It doesn’t matter that the play ends with most of the heroes dead, and the revolution squashed. For a brief time, the audience entered into a story, connected with characters, and were changed by the experience.

So it is with worship music. For a brief time, we enter into the story of redemption, and are transported into the throne room of God, joining the saints and angels in praising and proclaiming the awesomeness of the Lamb. The music lifts us out of our day to day busyness and compels us to be changed, even if only for a little while.

I left the seminary chapel with a song in my heart, and found myself spontaneously worshiping God throughout the rest of the day, singing snippets of different praise songs and hymns at the most random of times.

So did the contemporary worship music emotionally manipulate me? Yep. And that was a good thing.