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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

 

 

 

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. 😳

Karl Barth and Good Friday

 

 

Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

 

“Man is faithless, but God is faithful. The death of Jesus Christ is not just God’s accusation against man, not just His condemnation of man. It is also — in fact it is first and foremost — the victory and establishment of the complete dominion of His grace.  God is righteous; He is not mocked. What man sows he must also reap. But God has taken it upon Himself to reap this fatal harvest. In man’s own place and on man’s behalf, God has sown new seed. God has placed Himself under the accusation and condemnation which stand over godless Adam and the fratricidal Cain. And God Himself, in their place and ours, became for us the true man from whose way we have strayed. God has thereby spoken. His word of forgiveness, His word of the new commandment, of the resurrection of the flesh and an eternal life. Here is the place where it becomes unmistakable that God’s grace is pure, free, unmerited grace. Yet even more important, here is the foundation and revelation of the fact that God’s grace endures, triumphs, rules, and is effective.” ~ Karl Barth, “The Christian Proclamation Here and Now” in God Here and Now, 9-10.

Announcement

I received word that I got into my top two choices for PhD programs. After much prayer and discussion I have accepted the offer of admission to the conjoint PhD program in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto. In my admissions research proposal, I expressed my desire to continue my research on Karl Barth, specifically looking at his lectures on the Gospel of John (In my MA thesis I looked at Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14 and compared his original exegesis in these early lectures to three places in the Church Dogmatics where he once again exegetes this foundational verse that gives shape to his entire Christological method). As a result of that proposal, my PhD supervisor will be Dr. Joseph Mangina. I am excited and thankful for this opportunity. It’s going to be an interesting season of life as I embark on this new adventure.

Prayers would be appreciated as plans and preparations begin. As well, pray that I may get adequate funding. I received a scholarship that will cover my tuition but I still need to fund my living expenses (dorm, meal plan, flights back to Saskatchewan, etc.)

Wycliffe College Here I come!

 

The Experience of the Holy Spirit, Water Baptism and the Cornerstone of Our Faith

Once upon a time, a member of an evangelical church approached the pastoral staff about the possibility of getting baptized. This person had been baptized three times previously: as an infant, as a teenager, and as a young adult in her mid-twenties. Here she was, now in her forties, asking to be baptized yet again. Her rationale for getting re-baptized was that this way the Spirit could work powerfully in her life, as she had stopped feeling the Spirit’s presence in her life. The senior pastor agreed to do it, but the associate pastor found himself struggling to support this decision. He had already wrestled with the concept of re-baptism for those who were baptized as children and now as adults wanted to proclaim what the Holy Spirit had done in their life, and he was reluctantly okay with re-baptism in those circumstances (mostly because there was no tradition of confirmation in this particular church). But this was different. This multiple re-baptism was a way to manipulate the spiritual high that the member was so desperately seeking from the Holy Spirit, and the associate pastor knew, based on this person’s level of faith, that this fourth baptism would not be the last.

 

In The Source of Life, Jürgen Moltmann  writes about the experience a Christian has of being dead to sin and reborn through Christ’s resurrection. Moltmann argues that part of the problem of re-baptism (in this case, once as an infant and later as an adult) is that it opens the possibility of multiple baptisms, “to match corresponding experiences of the Spirit,”1 which is just what this member of the church was seeking in her fourth baptism.

Moltmann suggests that this approach to the Spirit is a form of re-incarnation, being born again, over and over. The New Testament, Moltmann argues, presents only one new birth that “is unique and eternal and never returns again.”2 It is “once-for-all” and “final.”3 This new life is not simply about restoration or renewal. It is completely new.4 And while there may be times of restoration and renewal through the life of a Christian, these are times of growth rather than times of re-birth. There was only one resurrection of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and through baptism, we enter into this one resurrection; this one new life.

Moltmann concludes, “it is important to make it clear to ourselves that it is not experiences that create faith, but faith that creates experiences. The firm lodestone of faith is not provided by the inner experiences of the Spirit…but by community with Christ, in the living and dying and rising again with him.6 Looking at the story above, Moltmann’s conclusion about the experience of the Spirit could be a useful way to facilitate a theological conversation between the pastoral staff and the church member about how Christians can experience the Holy Spirit in their lives and what practices can be used to facilitate appropriate responses of thanksgiving, repentance and transformation in a corporate worship setting.

1

 Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 27.

2 Ibid., 28.

3 Ibid., 28.

4 Ibid., 30.

5 Ibid., 31.

6

 Ibid., 32.