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A Typical Bedtime in the Life of a PhD Student


SCENE: 11pm. Amanda has changed into her pyjamas, turned out the lights, and has snuggled under the covers. Her eyes close and she looks forward to drifting off to sleep.


Manda’s Brain: Conway’s ameliorative punishment is significant because x, y, z. And its influence can be seen in a, b, c.

*Manda’s brain continues to recite an entire paragraph that would be perfect for Amanda’s paper.*

Amanda: Grrr. Really?! Now?

*Amanda rolls over and tucks the cover up over her head.*

*Manda’s brain begins to formulate the next paragraph.*

Amanda: Fine!

*Amanda throws off the covers and fumbles for the light switch, and with squinting eyes, opens up her laptop. Type, type, type.*

Amanda: There. Done. Now I can go to bed.

*Amanda shuts the laptop, turns off the light, and crawls back into bed.*

 brainManda’s Brain: You know, while we’re at it, here’s a beautiful paragraph for that other paper you’re writing.

Amanda: No. I’m going to bed. It is time to sleep. Be quiet.

Manda’s Brain: But this is really good.

Amanda: I don’t care.

Manda’s Brain: Yes you do care.

Amanda: Fine. I care. I’ll care more in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: No you won’t.

Amanda: Yes I will.

 Manda’s Brain: You know that abyss in “Inside Out” where thoughts and memories are annihilated?

Amanda: ….yeah…

 Manda’s Brain: That’s where I’ll punt this beautiful paragraph if you don’t get up right now and write it down.

Amanda: You wouldn’t do that. You’ll file it away, nice and safe, and I’ll remember it in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: Oh, I would so totally do it. You’ll be asleep. You won’t be able to stop me.

Amanda: I don’t care. I’ll come up with an even better idea tomorrow.

Manda’s Brain: Are you sure about that? Where did I put that writer’s block?

*Manda’s brain begins softly whistling.*

Amanda: You wouldn’t.

Manda’s Brain: Tomorrow’s your writing day, right? No classes. Just writing. You have big plans to get lots accomplished.

Amanda: You wouldn’t sabotage that! There’s only two weeks left in the semester!

Manda’s Brain: Found the writer’s block, now to set an alarm so that it activates at 8am and lasts til…oh I don’t know, how’s 24 hours?

Amanda: NO!!!! Fine. I’ll get up and write it down.

*Grumpily, Amanda throws off the covers, fumbles for the light switch and opens her laptop.*

Amanda: You know, I really hate you sometimes.

Manda’s Brain: You know you love me.

Amanda: Okay, what was the paragraph again?

Manda’s Brain: …oh wait…um…

Amanda: REALLY?!

Manda’s Brain: Hang on…I’ve got it…Oh right. Here we go!

*Amanda types out the paragraph, hits save, and shuts the laptop.*

Amanda: Are we done? Can I go to sleep now?

Manda’s Brain: Yup. All done.

Amanda: Are you sure? If I climb into bed, close my eyes and you start jabbering again, I’m going to ignore it. I don’t care if the idea ends up in the abyss of forgotten ideas to be annihilated.

Manda’s Brain: I’m sure. Go to sleep. I’ll be fine.

*Amanda turns off the light, climbs into bed, pulls the covers over her head and closes her eyes.*

Manda’s Brain: Hey Amanda.

Amanda: ….

Manda’s Brain: Do you worry about what people would think about this?

Amanda: You mean, do I worry about what people may think about the fact that I have internal arguments with myself?

Manda’s Brain: Yeah. What would your husband, the psychologist, say?

Amanda: *laughing* Are you kidding? We’re completely normal compared to him. At least this conversation is happening internally. When he’s in writing mode he paces back and forth and has the argument out loud. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Good night Manda’s Brain, I love you.

Manda’s Brain: I love you too. Good night.

The Latest Craze

Shhh. There’s a new thing that all the cool people are doing.

Have you heard about it? It’s all the rage.

But shhhh, we don’t want it to be publicized too widely because once the world hears about it there will be nothing but armchair moralizing by people who have never done it, or tongue-clucking by people who had done it years and years ago but have managed to forget how complex the ritual is.

This ritual happens all year round, but there are swells of participation usually clustered around the last week of November and first couple weeks of December, and again around the last week of March and into the first couple weeks of April.

Most often this ritual is done individually, without a partner, but what appears to be a lonely exercise is actually a synchronized activity performed by thousands of individuals simultaneously.

It happens in tiny cells that each consist of a desk, a bookshelf if you’re lucky, and an uncomfortable bed that looks older than dirt and feels even older.

It happens in tiny wooden carrels tucked at the ends of row upon row of narrow corridors, with walls plastered with signs that say “this is a quiet zone. No food allowed. Only drinks with tight-fitting lids permitted. Please silence all cell phones.”

It happens in coffee shops, where, for only a couple of dollars, you can sit for hours nursing a hot beverage that gives you the energy to perform this ritual into the wee hours of the morning, while making use of an essential prop called “free wifi” (which the coffee shop offers because all the other coffee shops offer it, but secretly they curse because it means that you stay for hours on end).

It’s a rather dizzying and tiring display of bluster, clumsy false starts and, more often than not, tears.

Two steps forward. Three steps back. One step forward and a couple of shuffles to the side.

Repeat the pattern, only not necessarily exactly the same. And this time, you make sure to keep an eye on the clock as its tick-tock rhythm forces you to complete the sequence of steps more quickly.

Two steps forward. Two steps back. Three steps forward and one shuffle to the side. Faster!

One step forward. Your breathing becomes laboured.

Half a step back. You can’t feel your hands or feet. Faster still!

Two shuffles to the side. Your vision begins to blur.

One twirl, a backflip and, finally, collapse into an over-dramatic bow.

It’s called the Paper Writing Waltz. #PhDYrOne

The Evolution of Christmas Wishlists: From Childhood to Adulthood

Christmas tree with presents

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s amazing how priorities change when it comes to Christmas wishlists. When I was a kid I would specifically write “no socks, no underwear” on my wishlist because every year, without fail, they would be under the tree and I was convinced that they were the most boring Christmas presents ever. The socks and underwear were always from “Mrs. Claus.” Poor “Mrs. Claus,” why did she always have to be the practical one?

When I got to college the first thing on my Christmas wishlist was “more socks, more underwear.”

When I started having kids the list became things related to having kids.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother to write  a wishlist because I’m supposed to be a grown-up now and Christmas presents are for the kids. And, after three kids do parents even know how to dream and wish for anything other than sleep?

Now I’m in my first year of the PhD program. Between the books, books, and more books, and the need for a steady supply of PhD fuel (aka caffeine), there is no mistaking what season of life is represented by this year’s wishlist.


Amanda’s Christmas Wishlist 2015

  • Having Chuck come for a visit to Toronto in February so we can celebrate our 10th anniversary.
  • Tim Horton’s gift cards (for steady supply of warm Picard-style caffeine)
  • Moleskine brand lined notebooks (3-pack) (Best notebooks ever and a must-have for PhD students)
  • “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin (fiction on my list?!!! I have time to read for fun?)
  • “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” by Laura Ingalls Wilder (non-academic non-fiction on my list?!!! What was I thinking?)
  • President’s Choice gift cards (because a girl’s got to eat)
  • “Theology as Discipleship” by Keith Johnson (can you tell I’m a theology major?)
  • Cineplex Odeon gift cards (all work and no play makes  Manda a dull student)
  • “Reading Barth with Charity” by George Hunsinger (were you really expecting there to not be any Barth on my list?)
  • “The Undoing of Death” by Fleming Routledge (because theology)
  • ESV German/English Parallel Bible (Need to work on my German)
  • “Barth’s Theological Ontology of Holy Scripture” by Alfred Yuen (yes, more Barth)
  • Packages of printer paper (self-explanatory)
  • Leather-bound large print BCP (Because I can’t neglect my devotional life)
  • iTunes gift card (see comment on the Cineplex gift cards)
  • fuel for paper-writing (aka Diet Pepsi)
  • funky-coloured socks (because I can’t not have socks on my wishlist)

We Send it All to the Cross of Christ

Perhaps it is because I came to Christ in a Pentecostal church, but I find that it is important to involve both my mind and body in worship (yes, if I could get away with raising my hands while singing more often on Sunday mornings I would totally do it). Last week at Wycliffe’s weekly chapel service, the Anglican archbishop of Kenya (and chairman of GAFCON) Eluid Wabukala, was presiding. Because of this, we did the service according to the Kenyan Book of Common Prayer. What a fantastic liturgy! The theology is rich and the prayers are deep.

12186585_10153697895690011_8341837591866524283_oOne of the most powerful moments in this liturgy comes after communion where there is an interactive, participatory blessing. The rubric (or instruction) says this: “The people accompany the first three responses with a sweep of the arm towards the cross behind the table, and their final response with a sweep towards heaven.”


Three times the people say “we send to the cross of Christ” and with the physical gesture of pointing or throwing, the people send all their problems, difficulties, and the works of the devil symbolically to the foot of the cross of Christ:

All our problems

We send to the cross of Christ

All our difficulties

We send to the cross of Christ

All the devil’s works

We send to the cross of Christ

And then, they sweep their hopes up to the resurrected Christ in heaven with one final gesture:

All our hopes

We set on the risen Christ

The placement of this blessing in the liturgy, coming after communion but before the dismissal, is a powerful reminder before being sent out into the world that we leave our “stuff” precisely where it belongs: at the foot of the cross.

Once we got the hang of it, it was a raucous, physical and animated moment in the service.

The minister then concludes it with this blessing:

Christ the Sun of righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.

10 Reasons Christians Shouldn’t Read The Patristic Fathers #TBT

10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.

9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!

8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church?! Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is one where the woman is at home in high heels and has supper in the oven.

7. We may have our view of communion challenged. What do you mean they celebrated communion weekly? Everybody knows you should only celebrate it monthly otherwise it becomes stale and rote.

6. The Reformers read the Church Fathers and look at how badly that turned out for Christianity.

5. They wrote in Greek (which is too hard to learn) and Latin (which is a dead language).

4. If we read the Patristics we may come to find that the heroes weren’t always noble and honourable and the villains (heretics) weren’t always the bad guys.

3. Everyone knows that “communion of saints” only refers to this current generation.

2. Their issues are in no way our issues today. All of our issues theological and ecclesiological are brand new and have never been experienced by any other generation of Christians.

1. Karl Barth was heavily influenced by the Church Fathers and everyone knows that if Barth liked it it must be wrong!


This post was originally published 5/11/12 and is re-posted as part of #TBT (Throwback Thursday).

Are Religious Kids Really Meaner than Their Secular Counterparts? A Guest Post

There’s a news story making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter about a study that supposedly shows that religious kids are meaner than non-religious kids. Social psychologist Dr. Chuck Hackney takes a closer look at the study and offers some important caveats about the methodology in today’s guest post.



Here are a few of my initial thoughts on the study:

  1. It is odd that the researchers had to go to a biology journal to get it published, when there are several high-quality psychology of religion journals out there.  Not really an important point, just something to note.
  1. Before anyone gets too excited about the findings, look at the statistics.  This is why I tell my students that it’s important to read the methods and results in research write-ups. It may be the boring technical bits, but that’s where the quality of a study stands or falls.  The standardized coefficient reported by the researchers was -0.132, which represents only a small effect size.  Put another way, the coefficient represents the change in one variable (stickers given to another kid) associated with changes in the other variables (religious vs nonreligious household).  Children were given 30 stickers and given an opportunity to share.  The difference between the average sticker sharing among the religious kids and the average sticker sharing among the irreligious kids was ONLY 13% of one sticker.
  1. The way that the researchers measured religiosity annoys me.  They operationalized their variable by a simple religious/nonreligious dichotomy, which is the crudest and least sophisticated possible way to do it.  Given the easy availability of a wide range of complex multidimensional religiosity measures, speaking as someone who has done psychology of religion research, I am professionally annoyed at such a blunt analytic approach.  The website where I first saw this was a Doctor Who site (yes, I know the story is not about Doctor Who. There is some off-topic discussion going on at that website).  I explained the problem to them this way: Suppose someone wanted to study Doctor Who fandom, but they measured it by asking participants “Have you ever seen an episode of Doctor Who?”, and calling everyone who said “yes” a Doctor Who fan.  Would any actual Doctor Who fan have any respect at all for a study like that?
  1. Another thing to watch out for is big sweeping conclusions based on data that do not actually support such statements.  Looking at the crudity of their measure and the small effect size that they detected, a proper conclusion would be very modestly stated, with a lot of acknowledgements of the limitations of the study.  If you click on the link in the story and get the pdf of the study, looking at the conclusions they draw, there is none of that.  There is no modesty in their discussion, and they close with a claim that this study shows that secularization makes the world more moral.  Talk about overstating one’s case!

Leaving aside the methodological problems noted above, the connection between religiosity and morality is complex and needs a lot more development. To begin with, the results of psychology of religion studies vary widely depending on how researchers define religion. Studies in which the researchers measure religion by asking questions like “how often do you attend religious services?” produce very different results than studies in which religiosity is measured in terms of agreement with theological teachings, and those studies produce different results than studies in which the researchers are looking at religious maturity, or religious motivation, and so on.

It also matters how morality is being measured. Studies that measure morality by assessing endorsement of moral values tend to show that religiosity is strongly predictive of more moral beliefs. Some aspects of religiosity predict more mature and complex moral reasoning while other aspects do not. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), religiosity does not predict more moral behaviour when believers are “in the heat of the moment” (e.g., giving someone an opportunity to cheat on a test), but it does predict more moral behaviour when believers have time to plan for it (e.g., higher religiosity scores predict more volunteerism). Religiosity predicts higher levels of morally-relevant traits such as self-control, gratitude, and forgiveness.

And even then, that’s the simplified version. It all gets complicated very quickly.


Dr. Charles Hackney is Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department at Briercrest College and Seminary. He is co-host of the Book of Nature Podcast, and author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.  He is also married to me!

Wycliffe Women’s Breakfast

This morning, Wycliffe College is having a women’s breakfast to raise funds for bursaries for female students. I have been invited to share briefly about why I’m at Wycliffe. What follows is the manuscript of my talk. (update: the audio file is now available.)


When I started seminary in Saskatchewan my daughter Beth was 6 months old. During the four years of seminary work, she was joined by Nora, and Malcolm. It was, to say the least, an extremely busy time.

And yet, through my time at seminary, several wise mentors suggested that I had a gifting for teaching and theology. My husband saw this vocation as well, and after much prayer and reflection, we decided that my educational journey wasn’t done quite yet.

As we considered PhD programs, I was looking for a school that understood that theology is done in and for the church and because of that, it is, at its very core, a discipline of prayer. Wycliffe embodies this both in its deep desire to serve the church, and in its commitment to creating a space for prayerful theological reflection in the classroom and in the weekly practice of community Eucharist.

I was looking for a school that understood that academic rigour and the Christian faith are not inimical. The quality of scholarship offered by the professors at Wycliffe is probably the best of all theological institutions in Canada.

My husband and I were also trying to figure out how we could be good stewards of God’s resources. PhD studies are expensive, and we knew that we would need my husband’s pay cheque to cover the costs of raising 3 kids and paying for PhD tuition. And, my husband loves his job, and has his own callings and giftings. If we all moved to Toronto, not only would the cost of living be significantly higher, but it was highly unlikely that he would be working in his field.

And so, with prayer, and faith, and my husband working two jobs to support us, it was decided that the best way to steward all of God’s gifts was for us to become a bi-provincial family. My husband and the kids (who are now 6, 4 and 2) would stay in Saskatchewan, and I would live on the 3rd floor of Wycliffe during the school year. I skype in for dinnertime every day, and Chuck puts my skype face where I would normally sit at the dining room table. Yesterday, when I skyped in, Nora, who is now 4, was sitting at the dining room table, frantically writing. I said to her, “Nora, what are you doing?” “Shhhh. Momma I’m busy doing my homework. I have a class to teach in 5 minutes and I have a paper to write.”

The women at Wycliffe all have their own challenges (some even more complicated than mine) and yet they all have a deep sense of God’s calling in their lives to study the Word of God.

There’s a collect or prayer in one of the Anglican prayerbooks that is assigned for this Sunday (November 8th) that I think perfectly encapsulates the heart’s cry of the women at Wycliffe as we are here at seminary. Will you pray this for these gifted and called women?

Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning,

grant us so to hear them,

read, mark, learn, and inwardly ingest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.




A Reflection on the Desiring the Kingdom Conference

tyndale chapelWhen I was in seminary, my professor had us read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as part of our course on Spiritual Formation. This book, as I have posted previously, would have a profound influence not only on my personal faith journey but also on my hesitant and wobbly first steps into college teaching. But just because I found it incredibly insightful (or may I say “thick”?), many of the students struggled with the book, and asked questions like:



Why read this?

Is this just an attempt to convert us to Anglicanism?

Why isn’t it more practical?

What is the relevance of endless conversations about liturgy for low-church evangelicals?

What does this have to do with the nuts and bolts of life in the trenches of every day pastoral ministry?

conference programThis week I have been privileged to sit in a three-day conference devoted to exploring the practical outworking, as we considered the question: what does this discussion of thick practices, secular vs. cultural liturgies, and humans being primarily creatures of worship and creatures of desire, mean for Christian formation in our churches?

Together with people from a variety of academic, pastoral and lay backgrounds, we gathered at Tyndale University College for the Desiring the Kingdom conference. James K.A. Smith led us through a variety of plenary sessions where he explained his premise in non-academic, accessible language. And we had a variety of breakout workshops that attempted to look at the practical implications and methods of incorporating these ideas about human flourishing and formation into the various ministries.

We have people working with children’s ministry; youth ministry; catechesis; seniors’ ministry; worship; and intercessory ministries.

We had lifelong Anglicans who are asking what role does the Book of Common Prayer have in the 21st century, especially in reaching disenfranchised cradle Anglicans who have walked away from the church and want nothing to do with what they perceive to be “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote” liturgy.

We had evangelicals, both on and off the Canterbury trail, who are drawn to the richness of liturgy but who are unsure how to incorporate it and/or prevent it from becoming “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote.”

We had teachers and pastors who are trying to figure out how to teach the faith to unchurched or dechurched people (and let’s face it, even most of the Christians in our pews are more like dechurched people given how little Scripture and theology they know).

We had people from dioceses where there hasn’t been active, intentional children’s ministry in their churches for years and now they are ill-equipped to teach children the Gospel.

We had people who are raising children and have thought that it was primarily the church’s job to teach their kids about Christianity, and have no resources for beginning to incorporate formation and teaching in their homes.

And I’m participating as both a PhD student, with an eye to how this applies to an educational context, and as a layperson (training to become a licensed lay reader), wanting to serve my church in the areas of catechesis and worship.

The message, the examples, and the strategies that have been offered in this gathering of Christians boil down to this: Christianity has something to offer to a broken and hurting world. It may not be flashy. It may not be “relevant” in the way that culture shallowly defines it. It may not be pretty. It may not be easy. But, the practices of Christian formation, of gospeling, of praying, of gathering as a community to worship, of practicing hospitality, of reading Scripture, of discipleship and teaching, offer a vision of the world and of humanity that the world is desperately seeking.

And, there are people, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are willing to serve, to minister, and to lean into these thick practices so as to participate with the Holy Spirit in pulling back the curtain and allowing the world to glimpse the amazing event of God revealed in Christ.

If you’d like to a peek at some of the discussions, check out #DesKingdomConf.




The Scandal of the Life of Jesus

sermon_smAnyone contemplating the life of Jesus needs to be newly and more deeply aware every day that something impossible, something scandalous has occurred: that God, in his absolute Being, has resolved to manifest himself in a human life. He must be scandalized by this, he must feel his mind reeling, the very ground giving way beneath his feet;  he must at least experience that “ecstasy” of non-comprehension which transported Jesus’ contemporaries. They are amazed, beside themselves, stupefied, overwhelmed; their reason abandons them (literally). And this happens again and again. In the face of his understanding, his reason, they lose theirs…

In the gospel, anyone who encounters Christ is impelled either to worship him or to pick up stones with which to stone him. Evidently, the gospel does not foresee any other kind of response…

There is no question of our being “ready” to take the shock of the Absolute. We cannot get in training for it and be more prepared to meet it. We cannot manipulate our contemplation in order to acquire some relevant “experience.” When God suddenly appears in Christ, the ground is taken from under us; this is something to which we can only respond with ever greater humility and renunciation, more and more simply and vulnerably, increasingly revealing our nakedness and poverty. And it is this poverty of heart which is called “blessed” in the first of the Beautitudes.

~ Excerpted from Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Word is Made Flesh,” pgs 159-162.

A Day in the Life of An Introvert

introvert name tag

Manda: I need to figure out which church to attend this weekend.

Introverted Manda: why not just go where we went last week?

Manda: because part of the benefit of being in the big city for school is that I’ll get to experience a bunch of new opportunities.

Introverted Manda: whose dumb idea was that?

Manda: Mine. Now let me figure out the streetcar routes.

Introverted Manda: you know, if we go where we went last week you don’t need to figure all that out because you can just walk.

Manda: shhhh.

Introverted Manda: how many churches are on your list to check out?

Manda: six.

Introverted Manda: six?! That’s too many! Remember, your husband is a psychologist and remember how  he likes to go on and on about the paradox of choice? Listen to him. Let’s just go back to the church from last week.

Manda: no.

Introverted Manda: but the church we went to last week is big. You can hide. You can sit through the service and not be pestered by nosy extroverts.

Manda: shhh.

Introverted Manda: the church you went to last week has contemporary worship. You like contemporary worship.

Manda: I know that.

Introverted Manda: and they share communion every week. That’s very important.

Slothful Manda: hey why don’t we just skip church and go see a movie instead?

Manda and Introverted Manda: NO!

* Sometime Sunday afternoon*

Chuck: So where did you go to church this week?

Manda: the same church as last week. 😳