Archive for July 2012

Canadian Christianity: The United Church of Canada

In this weekend’s Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente wrote a scathing indictment of the liberal church in Canada, taking aim specifically at the United Church of Canada:

But today, the church is literally dying. The average age of its members is 65. They believe in many things, but they do not necessarily believe in God. Some congregations proudly describe themselves as “post-theistic,” which is a good thing because, as one church elder said, it shows the church is not “stuck in the past.” Besides, who needs God when you’ve got Israel to kick around?…
As the United Church found common cause with auto workers, it became widely known as the NDP at prayer. Social justice was its gospel. Spiritual fulfilment would be achieved through boycotts and recycling. Instead of Youth for Christ, it has a group called Youth for Eco-Justice. Mardi Tindal, the current moderator, recently undertook a spiritual outreach tour across Canada to urge “the healing of soul, community and creation” by reducing our carbon footprint. Which raises the obvious question: If you really, really care about the environment, why not just join Greenpeace?

The current moderator of the UCC, Mardi Tindal, has responded to Wente’s article:

Third, when we engage with complex issues, such as conflict in the Middle East or the moral imperative to address climate change, we need to take a long view. Historically, great social changes that came from the leadership of people of faith—William Wilberforce on abolishing slavery, Nellie McClung on getting women the vote in Canada, Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights—took time. These people were not merely social reformers. They were motivated by faith, and it was their faith that inspired them in the first place and sustained them in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The UCC is gearing up to elect their new moderator. The official profiles of the candidates can be found here. As well, Cruxifusion has posed 4 questions to each of the candidates:

1) “Cruxifusion” means “united by the cross.” What does Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mean to you?
2) Describe the God you worship.
3) Which Christian author has had the greatest impact on you?
4) What gifts and passions do you have that you believe the United Church of Canada needs today?

Their answers can be found here and I encourage you to read them. There are very diverse answers. Even just looking at question 3 yields answers as diverse as Bishop Spong, John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and Walter Bruggemann.

Nick Phillips, a UCC pastor in Nova Scotia has provided his own answers to the Cruxifusion questions:

I have a passion for lifting up Jesus Christ to the church. Without Jesus we are nothing. Without Jesus we cannot expect to reach new generations, no matter how innovative or creative we get in our outreach. Evangelism begins with Jesus Christ, from there we can get creative in helping people experience their own relationship with him. I’m also not afraid of new ideas and I think it’s time for us to explore new approaches to ministry and church. It’s time to bring Christ back into our communities through new models of outreach.

See also:
Last year, The National Post had an article on the future of the United Church and Mardi Tindal’s response to that article can be found here.

Sometimes (A Student Reflection)

Sometimes, we learn because of our teachers.

Sometimes, tests, papers and assignments accurately demonstrate what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, tests, papers and assignments don’t accurately reflect what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we learn with our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes after the class has finished, once we can get some distance and a chance to process what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we fail to appreciate what we’ve had to learn.

Sometimes, the learning process is painful as it tears down our preconceptions and shakes our worldview.

Sometimes, the learning process is a healing balm, nourishing our souls, and fertilizing our minds.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it.

Sometimes, we don’t want it to ever end.

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming and beautiful and intense.

Sometimes, it’s boring and frustrating and rote.

Sometimes, we learn in spite of our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes not in the classroom, but in the community of learning.

For all the sometimes, there is most definitely an always: The learning experience always shapes our character. For good or for bad, we have been changed.

Sunday Meditation

Let every faithful man and woman, when they have risen from sleep in the morning, before they touch any work at all, wash their hands and pray to God, and so go to their work. But if instruction in the word of God is given, each one should choose to go to that place, reckoning in his heart that it is God whom he hears in the instructor.

For he who prays in the church will be able to pass by the wickedness of the day. He who is pious should think it a great evil if he does not go to the place where instruction is given, and especially if he can read, or if a teacher comes. Let none of you be late in the church, the place where teaching is given.

Then it shall be given to the speaker to say that is useful to each one; you will hear things which you do not think of, and profit from things which the Holy Spirit will give you through the instructor. In this way your faith will be strengthened about the things you have heard. You will also be told in that place what you ought to do at home. Therefore let each one be diligent in coming to the church, the place where the holy Spirit flourishes. ~ Hippolytus, ‘Of the Time When One Ought To Pray’

Words That Need to Die a Quick and Painful Death

In last week’s post, I wrote about two examples of pastors trying to keep theology “relevant” for their congregations. Leslie mentioned in the comments how much she dislikes the word “relevant”and even the word “practical.”

There are several buzzwords that I think have outlived their usefulness (if they were actually ever useful) and need to be put in front of the buzzword firing squad:

Relevant — This word seems to be a way to dismiss any theology or teaching that requires more than five minutes of thought. If a theological premise requires nuance and discernment and deep discussion than it’s not relevant and thus bad.

Practical — Why does everything have to be practical? Practical seems to be code word for denying mystery.

Missional — oh how I hate this word. It’s just a way to try to make a ministry cool, and nobody seems to know what it means anymore as it seems to apply to anything and everything.

Authentic — authentic as compare to inauthentic? Who decides if something is authentic or inauthentic?

What other words need to die a painful death? And on the opposite end, are there any words that we should use more? (I know that I’d like to see more Whedonisms enter the lexicon. Shiny!)

Finding a Use for My French

When I was a kid, if your parents didn’t put you in French Immersion, you still ended taking core French starting in grade 4. In grade 6, my core French teacher recommended to my mom that I enter the Late Immersion program. This Late Immersion program started in Grade 7 and was for those kids who excelled in core French. I’m so glad my mom put me in that program! I continued to take French all through junior high and high school, and even applied to a French program at York University that would have qualified me to become a translator for parliament and political sessions. My cohort was studied by some researchers and we were tested and evaluated against our peers who were the same age but who had started in the Early Immersion program in grade 1.

At the end of high school, the researchers found that the early immersion kids had a better accent, and were verbally more fluent in French. The Late Immersion kids had a better grasp of both French and English grammar, and overall had better writing skills in both languages.

Fast forward to today…

I recently finished my paper for The Patristic Fathers. I ended up using several sources that were in French and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the French came back to me. I didn’t have to labour over the texts with a dictionary, nor did I have to refresh my imperfect verb tenses. It was awesome. (That being said, I know that my French accent has gone to crap, it is very very very very very very Anglo. Good thing I didn’t have to have a conversation in French).

And while most of the French material I read for the paper didn’t actually make it into the paper (that’s just how research goes), I found the experience not only enjoyable, but exciting.

It’s got me thinking about future research and educational pursuits. I’m wondering if there is a way to play up my French and specifically take advantage of it. I’m wondering if there are topics or avenues of research that would purposefully put my French to use.

I could drop Barth (after my M.A.) and find a French theologian to study…

I could study the Reformation in France, and look at writers like Marie Dentiere and Marguerite de Navarre

I could…

Any thoughts?

Academic Research and Zombies: Are There Topics that Can Hurt a Scholar’s Career?

The Chronicle has an article about Dr. Bradley Voytek who is a neuroscientist who also studies zombies, and uses the topic of zombies to engage people in the field of neuroscience. It has caused him some grief, as several of his advisors suggest that he not include his “zombie research” on his c.v. because it could be a hindrance to his finding gainful employment in academia.

The one place he has been hesitant to promote, or even reveal, his undead-brain research is on his curriculum vitae. As he applied for his current postdoctoral research position last year, his Ph.D. adviser, Robert T. Knight suggested he “scrub it clean” of zombies.

“I didn’t want him to be known as a ‘media guy,'” says Mr. Knight, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley. To be taken seriously as a researcher, Mr. Knight cautioned, you should avoid seeming like a limelight-grabber and balance fun outreach with hard-core science.

Mr. Voytek’s partner in the zombie research, Timothy Verstynen, received an equally discouraging response from one of his advisers.

While finishing postdoctoral research and beginning his faculty job search, Mr. Verstynen was told by a senior adviser that he considered his outreach work a “stupid idea” and a huge career mistake.

“I think it was a kind of protectiveness,” says Mr. Verstynen, who earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Berkeley in 2006. Anything that detracts from research could hurt a young researcher on the job market.

It’s got me thinking about the field of theology and biblical studies. Are there topics that would hurt a young scholar’s research and job prospects in Christian academia? Would studying theology and the works of Joss Whedon, or biblical studies and Star Trek automatically lead to a young scholar’s c.v. being rejected by a Christian institution?

Would blogging about the intersection between theology and science fiction be evidence that a scholar is not serious about the field of theology? Is it too fringe? Is it okay so long as they primarily do “serious research” and leave the geek stuff to be done as a hobby? Should these interests be hidden until a scholar has found employment, or has achieved tenure?

For those of you who are academics, were you ever discouraged from exploring an avenue of research because it wasn’t serious or respectable enough?

Motivational Monday

Sunday Meditation

Holiness is not wholeness as the world understands it but faithfulness, perseverance in obedience. It means wholehearted dedication to the living God through service in his name. To aspire to holiness is to aspire to something other than a virtuous life or even a fulfilled life. What makes the holy person distinctive is not so much adherence to conventional moral standards as consecration to the Wholly Other, who stands in judgment over all human values and aspirations. Holiness excludes not only immorality but also mediocrity. It involves not only obedience to the law but also zeal for the faith.

The Christian life is characterized by passive sanctity and active holiness. The Holy Spirit secretly works sanctity within us; our task is to manifest this work of the Spirit in our everyday activities. We do not procure sanctity or holiness, but we can do works that reveal the holiness of Christ. We do not earn holiness, but we can demonstrate, celebrate and proclaim his holiness.

~Donald Bloesch, God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love, pg. 159.

A Time to Worship

It’s been a crummy couple of days around the blogosphere. I’m choosing to not participate or link to the discussion, but it has still managed to pull me down and has made me feel funky and broken and sad. If it was Sunday I would throw myself into worship, listen to the Word, pray, and partake of communion. But it’s only Thursday. So I thought, for those of us who need a sanctuary from the craziness, that I would post some videos of great preaching and great worship. Let’s spend some time praising our Saviour.

Call and Response:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.

And also with you.

Enter Into Worship:


Almighty God,
to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden.
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Great Sermon:

Gathering at the Table/Reflecting on Communion:



Glory to God,
whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more
than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Setting the Record Straight on Bane/Bain: This is My Geek Rant for the Week

I was sitting in a restaurant this afternoon, having a bit of “me” time. I was working my way through today’s Globe and Mail. In the Entertainment section was a review for The Dark Knight Rises.

Do I read it? Will there be spoilers? Do I read it? I hummed and hawed. And then decided to go ahead and read it. No spoilers, thankfully. And then I came across this:

…there are touches of Rocky, as well as Die Hard, but never far are echoes of 9/11 and the U.S. financial collapse of recent years. (The villain is named Bane, which intended or not, brings to mind this year’s Republican candidate for president and his infamous corporate alma mater.)

This is why non-geeks should not write movie reviews for comic book-based movies. Bane has been a villain in the Batman-verse for years! Heck, Joel Schumacher even butchered him in Batman and Robin and made him nothing more than a dimwitted lackey for Poison Ivy, and that was back in 1997! He is not named for Mitt Romney’s company!!

Bane appeared as a villain in DC Comics in 1993. He was THE adversary of Batman, who not only spent months and months elaborately planning the destruction of Batman but actually ended up breaking Batman’s back!

While fighting with Killer Croc (Detective Comics #660), Bane explains his name with all the subtlety of a brick: “I am BANE! The bane of everything that gets in my way! The bane of anything that lives!” He takes his name from the dictionary definition of “bane”: a cause of misery or death. Any attempt to connect this to Romney is just silly, a stretch too far to be passed over without mockery. The nuttiness, it seems, it not restricted to the Globe and Mail. On his radio show on Tuesday, this slice of conspiracy pie was served up by none other then El Rushbo himself. Rush has boasted in the past about broadcasting with half his brain tied behind his back… just to make it fair. He must have tied the knots a bit tighter than usual on Tuesday.

/Geek rant over. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.