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studying inside

Yesterday I was tidying up the mounds of paper from my last semester and came across a forgotten note I had scribbled over a month ago.  It was a reminder to check out an article by C.S. Lewis that one of my professors had  mentioned.  I googled the key phrase and Lewis' name, and came across a lucid piece of writing that addressed the issue I run into all the time when studying theology:  is it better to study something from the inside (which makes one prone to bias and narrow thinking) or to look at it critically from the outside (which is more objective but lacks immediacy)? 

This is an especially pertinent question for me right now because I will be teaching a course this term on Christian Spirituality.  I want to invite students to investigate the people we are studying and to become invested in their lives to some extent.  Yet I need them to engage in critical analysis and good research practices.  Lewis, in his signature accessible and analogical manner, insists that we w…

'twas the night before...

It is the night before Christmas.
I have the jitters.
Mid-torso butterflies,
spurts of adrenaline that make my heart beat faster.
I hold my breath without meaning to.  1......2.....3......4 (exhale)

I am 10.
I have hand-picked a small brown doll with eyes that shut when she sleeps
and wrapped it carefully in newspaper for my sister.
My fingertips are still inky from the exercise -
hiding the gift in smudged paper
in order to more splendidly reveal my timid, thoughtful attempt at generosity.
Will she love it as much as I want her to?
Will I have brought her joy
not only for a few moments
but for days and weeks to come?
I wait for her to pull open the grimy paper and get a peek inside.  1......2......3......4 (exhale)

Anticipation.
The knowledge that something is about to happen.
Something exciting
and definitely good
but unpredictable and maybe a teensy bit messy
because somehow it will change my world
in ways I can't quite imagine.
To become better than it was before, yes always…

things I want to learn...

In the past few weeks, a few situations have arisen that have caused me to feel frustrated, to be annoyed, to be torn about which way to go.  What this signals to me is that I have something to learn in these areas and the lessons are starting NOW!  The wonderful part of all these hard lessons is that in the middle of them, some understanding, some teaching, and some helpful insights always come along.  Kind of serendipitous how that always seems to happen when you need it.  In case you are taking the same life lessons that I am in the middle of, let me share some of them with you.

1.  WHEN TO SPEAK OR WRITE:  I thought I knew how to write a paper, but I found myself in a bit of a rush with the last paper I had due this past term and made one big error:  I started to write having only finished half of my research.  The result was a messy conglomeration of 10 pages that wandered here and there, saying a bit of this and a bit of that, but not really saying anything coherently.  Ugh.  I…

done!

I finished writing the last of my essays for the term this afternoon at 1:30 pm.  Somehow, it all got done.  Yes, there were quite a few 12+ hour days of writing and research in the last week, days when my eyes were so tired that they stung.  Perhaps I was forgetting to blink.  Whatever the case, I am "off" for a few weeks.  "Off" means that I read fiction instead of theology (except for 2 books I need to get a head start on for my next reading course), annoy Dean by hanging out with him ALL the time instead of hardly at all, go to some movies (I don't remember the last one we saw??), and stare out the window just because I can.

In case you are interested (but mostly because they are still really fresh in my mind), the two papers I just finished were called:  "The Task of Theology after Modernity: John D. Caputo on Reclaiming the Madness" and "A Perspective on Narrative Theology: Its Purpose, Particularity, and Centrality."  I know!  Very e…

the little

It is nearing the end of the term and I have finally finished all my classes and completed all my teaching assistant obligations.  Phew!  However, I still have two major papers to hand in and due to early vacation dates this year, I only have 9 days left to complete them.  At this point, one of them is about half done and the other one is still in the embryo stage.  These are 20-page research papers that need to reflect a doctoral level of knowledge of and engagement with the topics I have chosen.  I am not a fast writer in the first place (it usually takes me at least an hour to write one of these blogs because the initial ideas are rough and require thoughtful editing and expansion), but the extra care with which I am writing these essays means that an already slow process is even slower.  And around this time there are a lot of activities going on (parties), meetings that I have to plan and attend, not to mention Christmas preparations, and - oh yes - random house guests that cont…

book review: The Silent Years

The Silent Years: Jesus from Birth to Beatitude by Alan Green.  154 pages.  ebook version.

This book is advertised as a "progressive Christmas novel" and heralded by some learned readers (academics) as an "imaginative reconstruction" of the first thirty years of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  The author has concocted a tale told by Yeshua's uncle, Benaiah, by incorporating knowledge of the historical Mediterranean world (Green has a Ph.D. in History) and fusing this with loose interpretations of biblical passages.

I wanted to like the book.  I really did.  Having read Anne Rice's inspiring, fictionalized accounts of the early life of Jesus (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana), I was expecting more of the same:  meticulous research, historical authenticity, believable narratives, insightful portrayal of biblical characters, and an invitation to lose oneself in a cohesive world imaginatively created by the author.  It was not…

it's a mad mad mad world (of theology)

The mad dash for the end of term has begun.  I have finished all my required readings and have jumped into research reading.  One of my papers is on the madness of theology (the correlation seems more obvious to some of us than to others).  Truly inspiring stuff, I am finding.  Let me share a few quotes here:

There is a certain madness in Christianity – in a desert God who is jealous and passionate, in a saviour who speaks in apocalyptic terms, in a life of sacrificial love, in the scandal of particularity.In principle, a confessional theology should bear the mark of this madness, but the mark or wound must constantly be renewed. - Walter Lowe, "Postmodern Theology" in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 2007.

“In the Scriptures the odd phenomena constituting the ‘Kingdom of God’ are the offspring of the shock that is delivered by the name of God to what is there called the ‘world,’ resulting in what I call a ‘sacred anarchy.’Consider but a sampling of its more salient…

shameless celebration

Yesterday, I received my Master of Arts degree at the fall convocation of Concordia University.  It was a fun day and a nice break from my ongoing doctoral studies and work.  I love a good ceremony, especially one with a lot of colour, action, and some bagpipes!  Plus, I got to wear a costume!  Today it was back to work.  I spent most of the day grading, took an hour or two to cram in some reading for tonight's class, spent a few hours discussing postliberalism and postmodernity with a prof and some grad students in my evening class, then came home to finish this week's grading.  The tasks for the day are now done and it is 10:21 pm.  

I know how to work.  I can get things done.  As a graduate student, the list of things that one must and should and could do are never-ending.  It can easily overwhelm me if I am not careful.  Working seems very responsible (that would be my Anabaptist roots talking).  Celebration sometimes not so much.  However, the God of the Hebrews insisted…

with

I am nearing the end of the my first term as a PhD student.  So far, so good.  The reading load is a bit hectic (as it is supposed to be because doctoral students are expected to have cast iron brains that can digest large quantities of any sort of printed matter).  My job as a teaching assistant in the theatre department is demanding (3 hours in-class assistance and 8 hours of grading per week), but a nice break from the heavy thinking of theology.  Plus, the theatre classroom is a friendly and invigorating environment (except on Halloween when Death sat in the 4th row and kinda freaked me out a bit). 

Thus far, I have written 2 official reading reports, composed about 30 pages of notes on various readings, presented 6 summaries of readings, and taught a masters' class.  I still have another reading report and 2 major papers to write (slightly panicking) on 1) the task of theology after modernism and 2) something about narrative theology.  These last assignments need to happen …

lesson from the microwave

I was over at a friend's house yesterday and he was heating some apple cider in the microwave.  I noticed that he did not use a cup, but a large plastic container with a thin layer of cider at the bottom.  He commented that he had heard this method provided better heat distribution and therefore, heated the food faster.  I cannot verify or deny this theory for microwaves, but I know it is true of cooking in general. Thin slabs of cookie dough will cook faster than thick mounds.  Thick steaks take longer on the barbeque than thin ones. The more surface area one presents to the heat and the less dense the food is, the more efficient the change from raw to cooked, from cold to hot.

This concept started me thinking and strangely enough, the picture that came into my mind was that of someone lying prostrate on the floor in prayer, making themselves thin and spread out, not all bunched up and rigid.  The more areas of my life I present to God and make available to him, the more I will …

choice

I have some friends who are facing difficult seasons in their lives.  One of them has a husband with cancer.  Another has a wife with cancer.  Two of my friends recently lost their jobs.  These are all scenarios we would rather not find ourselves in.  We would never choose them.  And yet, there are people who do choose the hard way.  A book I am currently reading about a nun who has mystical experiences tells about women in a convent who desire to share in Christ's sufferings.  If you read the writings of faithful and godly people like St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich you will find this theme as well.  They request pain and affliction in order to be closer to Jesus.  We really have no concept of that in our comfort-driven, pain-avoiding culture.  We do not consider it an honour to suffer.  
I had a dream a few days ago in which I conversed with some of my friends who are in seasons of discomfort.  We talked about the things that God chooses for us vers…

free (for me)

Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love getting free samples of hair products, free tastings at a frozen yogurt bar, free admission to an art gallery, free rides, a free meal, free parks, a free t-shirt, free movies, free wifi, free rent for a month, and free healthcare.  But is it really free?  Free (for me) just means that someone else is picking up the tab.  It always costs someone something.

Those free tastings at the yogurt place are paid for by the store (and must be made up in the price of their product).  Free admission to the art gallery and well-kept parks are paid for by taxes from the hard-working folks in the city and province (who incidentally get no say in how high their taxes are or exactly where the monies go).  Free wifi is paid for by the subscriber who is generous enough to share their access.  Free rent just means that someone else is paying the mortgage.  A free ride means that the driver (or his company) is the one paying for the gas and vehicle maintenance. F…

subsume

We saw the band Mumford & Sons last night.  A real treat!  Those boys play hard, put everything they have into their music, graciously deal with each other, the audience, and their fellow musicians, and write some of the most insightful and profound songs I have heard in a long time.

I was one in a crowd of about 10,000 and we chose to buy general admission tickets on the floor instead of reserved seats further away.  The great thing about general admission is that you can decide your location.  The bad thing is that you have to get there early and stand for a few hours before the band plays.  Also, as the floor fills up, you have to deal with all the people who start to infringe on the space you thought you had claimed for yourself.  I am also not one of the tall people, so standing, general admission gigs are not ideal for me. 

I positioned myself as best I could with Dean right behind me, but at the last minute a tall guy and his girlfriend parked themselves right in front of…

tour guide

We had some good friends from Tennessee visit us this past week.  They were only here for a short time, so that meant some tough decisions had to be made.   What did I want them to see in Montreal, remember about Montreal, know about Montreal, experience in Montreal?  It was tempting to make a list of every significant sight to see and experience to be had and try to get through as many as possible, but I resisted.  Instead, I wanted my friends to experience what I knew to be the richness of life in Montreal.  This meant that we leisurely enjoyed the day, took time to eat desserts and drink yummy drinks, sauntered into small shops and wandered along the water, talked to strangers and took silly pictures, drove slowly along narrow streets, stood and marveled at beautiful structures and artwork, spent some time in contemplation at a religious site, enjoyed pleasant and meaningful conversation over dinner as savoury, Greek dishes appeared in succession at our table, and stood in the dar…

I don't want to be taller

I don't own a pair of high heels.  I did try to wear them for a bit back when I was doing my first degree, but after a few months of tottering about, I pulled them off my feet one frosty spring morning and walked barefoot back to my dorm room, never to embrace the style again.  Whenever I see women in heels (especially those spiky, skinny ones that are sure to get caught in a grate or sidewalk crack or street sewer cover), I wonder how they do it.  I know that some women claim that they can be comfortable, and fashion sense insists that heels make the female leg look great, but I am not convinced.  I think my legs look great just as they are.  I don't need to be taller, either.  I do need to be able to walk safely (and occasionally break into a run) without fear or fatigue.  Silly me - I believe I can look good without 3-6 inches of scaffolding strapped to my foot.

Heels are not evil, don't get me wrong, but they speak to me of the not-so-subtle pressure out there to look…

gleaning

Dean has been talking about generous living lately.  He is much better at it than I am.  For one thing, he understands the concept of 'gleaning.'  This is related to a farming practice in which the farmer deliberately leaves a bit of the harvest out on the field for folks down on their luck to 'glean' or pick up in order to feed their families.  You find it figuring prominently in the biblical story of Ruth.  The basic principle is that we do not try to wring the last bit of value out of our resources, livelihoods, or transactions, but make sure we leave something behind for someone else.  Dean compares it to the contemporary practice of tipping in a restaurant. Leave something behind - something good and substantial - not just leftovers that are hardly worth scraping off the ground. 

Another place that I find myself thinking in terms of 'gleaning' is when I am selling or buying something that involves negotiation.  I always try to leave the other person with…

the stages of a cold

I have been living with a stupid, nasty cold for 10 days now.  I suppose the fact that it is still partying in my body means that it is perhaps not so stupid and in fact pretty smart.  But I still maintain that is it nasty!  Whatever the case, over the course of the last week and a half I have observed a few different stages that I have gone through with this cold.

1. Denial.  It is just a wee scratchy throat.  It will probably be gone by morning. I'll just ignore it.
2. More Denial.  It's been a few days and I am starting to cough, so I think that's a sign that it is almost over.  I am sure I will feel much better tomorrow.  And besides, I can pretty much function as normal.
3. Impatience.  Why is this taking so long?  It's been a week and I should be feeling better!  It is interfering with my life.  (At this point I started asking for helpful suggestions to get rid of the thing).
4. Anger.  Okay, that's it!  I have had enough.  This sucker is done! (I bought cou…

day off

Something I read awhile back has made me rethink my idea of what constitutes a 'day off.'  Here is the quote from Douglas Steere:  "A day off...is a bastard Sabbath." [1]  What he means is that a day off is not a legitimate sabbath.  'Not working' does not constitute what God had in mind when he initiated a day of rest.  So what does it mean to keep a sabbath, and to keep it holy?  Steere suggests that it is much more than a day of 'not doing.'  It is a day of getting ourselves out of the way.  Embracing silence, embracing prayer. 

This quote of Steere's is taken from Eugene Peterson's book, The Pastor.  Peterson goes on to describe how his interaction with Steere initiated a change in how he and his family took a day off during the week.  "We deliberately separated ourselves from the workweek .. .and gave ourselves to being present to what God has done and is doing, this creation in which we have been set down and this salvation in whi…

why soggy cereal reminds me of the cross

I am one of those people that lets their breakfast cereal sit for awhile before I eat it.  I like it soggy.  I like the milk to infiltrate the squares, circles, flakes, clusters, and sticks and change their texture.  I figure if I want it crunchy, I might as well eat it out of the box and drink a glass of milk as a chaser.  I like to know that the milk has truly met the cereal and there is no turning back from the encounter.

We spent Sunday morning walking through the Way of the Cross garden at St. Joseph's Oratory with our faith community.  I have done this walk many times before, but never at such a slow, meditative pace.  It was a lot different than just hiking along the path, sightseeing.  We took our time.  We stood and looked.  We were silent.  We gazed.  We let the scenes affect us.  We soaked up whatever each statue showed about Jesus' life.  We let it sink in.  It was not a quick dip in the way of the cross that left us unchanged.  The two substances (the journey of …

schedules

Things have been a bit hectic this last month as I dove head-first into doctoral studies.  The first few weeks were filled with so many meetings and events and orientations and administrative 'stuff'  that had to be completed that it left me feeling a bit tossed about and slightly nauseous.  In the midst of all that hurricane activity on the sea of learning, I was given 4 days to complete a huuuuuuge funding application.  I managed it, but I am not sure how brilliant and put-together it was.  Now I am in the middle of two more very large applications and have a flurry of parties to attend on the weekend.  This whirlwind of activity has brought me to face to face with the issue of schedules. 

With Dean's help (and the Holy Spirit), I have now put one in place that should better manage all the classes, teaching responsibilities, reading, writing, and surprise tasks that are part of my workload, as well as leave space for living life as a normal human being who is an engage…

the unbusy (fill in the blank)

The only really not-so-good thing that happened on my vacation at the end of August was that I left the book I was reading, Eugene Peterson's The Pastor, on the plane when we landed in Winnipeg.  I put in a claim with Air Canada as soon as I discovered my error, but when there was no word from them after a week, I realised that I might never see that particular book again.  So I hoped that whoever found the volume might enjoy it, and I ordered it again.  On Thursday, it appeared at  my door. 
Yesterday I finished the chapter I had just begun to read when I misplaced the book - chapter 35.  If I was the legislating kind, I would insist that all pastors read this chapter.  However, what Eugene says here about his own experience goes far beyond the pastor vocation.  I think it speaks to all of us who find ourselves running non-stop in this demanding, busy, over-scheduled lifestyle, always feeling like we are a bit behind while never quite getting where we want to go.

Below is an ada…