Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Now I get to listen and learn!

Now that my talk is over I get to look forward to hearing Lisa Lambert and Norman Wirzba speak. Lisa is well known in Lethbridge for her activism on women's issues. Her influence extends beyond just Lethbridge actually since she is also the writer of Martha's Monthly. She and my friend Jane Barter Moulaison started Martha's Monthly quite a while ago. Now Jane lives in the Holy Land (Winnipeg) and Lisa continues the project. The Premier of the Alberta said that he was interested in hearing from the Marthas and the Henrys of Alberta so they set up a monthly email to interested people encouraging them to write letters to Premier Klein on particularly issues. The email outlines an issue and its impact particularly on women and children and then gives the addresses of the government ministers who need feedback. Lisa came and spoke to my class last term and she's a really fun and funny speaker so her talk should be great.

The week after Norman Wirzba will be coming from Georgetown College in Kentucky. He grew up in Lethbridge and went to the U of L. For years friends of mine have been telling me that we had to bring him up and I'm delighted that it is happening now. He's giving three talks while he's here and they promise to be very interesting. I'm reading a couple of things he's written right now including his new book on Sabbath.

Here is his schedule of events for those of you in the Lethbridge area:

“Christians and the Care of Creation”
Presentation and Discussion
Sunday, February 11th, 4:00 PM
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 2406-11th Ave. S
Co-sponsored by Ecumenical Campus Ministry and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

“Modernity, Morality, and God”
Public lecture
Monday, February 12th, Noon
University of Lethbridge, TH 103
Co-sponsored by the Departments of Philosophy and of Religious Studies, and Ecumenical Campus Ministry

“Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight”
Monday, February 12th, 7:00 PM, Lethbridge Public Library
the last lecture in the series
“And On the Seventh Day You Shall Do
No Work”: Contemporary Attitudes Towards
Work and Rest
7th Annual Lecture Series Sponsored by the Office of the President (U of L), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (U of L), the School of Health Sciences (U of L), the Office of the President (LCC), Lethbridge Public Library and Ecumenical Campus Ministry

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Techno sendup

A friend just sent me a great website, Geek Culture, with a very funny comic called The Joy of Tech. Today's comic is particularly fitting for the talk I gave last night and particularly the comments made by Bill Cade, the president of the U of L, in his comments introducing our series. I laughed out loud.

Thanks Scott!

Leisure, the Basis of Humanity

Well I did my talk at the library last night and it went well. We had a good turnout and the discussion was interesting. I talked about workaholism and the way technology is involved in keeping us enslaved to work.

I don't think the technology is inherently bad (after all I'm on it right now and loving every minute of it). But I did talk about the way it changes people's perception of time and what is timely. And I talked about an environment of work addiction that distorts our priorities and relationships.

One of the things I find really sad is that clergy are often among the worst for this. A pastor who used to be here told me once that he was dreading some clergy meetings he had for his denomination. He said he was 'sucking gas fumes' and he didn't look forward to having to listen to all these clergy brag about how hard they were working and how successful they were at building the kingdom. A number of years ago I went to a ministerial meeting exhausted from a really difficult funeral for a student. When I told them one responded by saying, 'your tired? I've done .... funerals in the last two weeks.' Then another said, 'well I've done....' and another 'well, I've had .... meetings and' You get the picture. Someone said to me once that they found it depressing how often clergy brag about breaking the commandment to keep the sabbath.

I know I do the same thing. I over-commit and I forget about good priorities. I'm usually convicted of my sin when I find out that someone was in distress and didn't call me because they knew I was 'busy' and didn't want to 'bother' me.

At the beginning of my talk I remembered the Rev'd Dr. Roy Gellatly who died Dec. 26th. Roy was a retired Presbyterian minister in our community who with his wife audited courses regularly at the university. You'd see him everywhere at community events and he exemplified what we have tried to do in the lecture series which is to provide a place for people from the community and our campuses to come together to discuss matters which affect our common life. He was also always ready for a conversation and never seemed to be rushing to something. I only knew him in retirement so I thought maybe things had been different when he was in active ministry. At the memorial service for him though, when his children spoke about their relationships with him, it was clear that he had had time to spend with them too when they were growing up.

I want to find ways to put a fence around my work and technology that allows me to spend more of that leisurely time with people.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Molly Phillips (1909-2006)

On December 1st, 2006 my grandma died. Molly Phillips was 97 and she died a good death. My uncle and aunt were able to be there and it wasn't drawn out or painful. Her health had been deteriorating for the last few years but for over 90 years she lived an amazing life. She was born in the China, returned as a missionary in the thirties and then returned 26 times in the '70s, '80s and '90s. She was president of the Canadian Chinese Friendship Association and every year for a time she would travel across Canada giving talks and meeting with local groups. I was living in southern Ontario at the time and we'd get together for a visit. One year she came to Hamilton and stayed with me.

My grandma played a big role in my coming to faith as a teenage. Never underestimate the influence a grandmother can have on her grandchildren when she knows how to tell Bible stories well. Nonetheless we couldn't have been more different theologically. Grandma was rooted in the social gospel and was thoroughly United Church in her ecclesiology and liturgical tastes. She couldn't understand how I could stand being an Anglican. She couldn't understand how anyone could put up with bishops and repeating the same prayers every week.

Grandma also encouraged me in my studies. She flew out to Winnipeg for my BA graduation and was always interested in what I was doing. She had gone to university and studied theology and then English and spent most of her life working as an English teacher.

I was fortunate to be able to go to Victoria for her memorial service and see family I haven't seen in years. My cousin, who has been living in exile in Florida, was able to come too despite snow in the States and wind on the coast. She just sent me a copy of Grandma's graduation photo - here it is:

Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord.
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Diesel Librarian translates Academiaspeak

Diesel Librarian has a very funny post on academic jargon on his blog. I'm glad he included a translation.

You know, I love academia as much as the next person, but sometimes it takes itself a little too seriously. Sometimes, it is straight talking out of its ass, as in the case below. What we have here is a conference invitation that a friend of mine recently received via email. I laughed when I first read it because it was so over-the-top in its theoryspeak. Just for fun, I have taken the email and paraphrased it in plain English for the edification of all.

TheorySpeak: "Interdisciplinarity draws its strength from the ontological view that reality may be explained from various different angles that permit interpretation of phenomena in a more complete way without becoming mere eclecticism. From an epistemological point of view, interdisciplinarity attempts to unify the field of action of the disciplines that study social facts and phenomena. It has no intention of achieving a priori integration of the paradigms of knowledge. Rather, its efforts are aimed at the enrichment and rational exchanging of the methods of various disciplines, to some extent independently of the categories specific to each science, in order to improve study of reality."

Translation: “There’s more than one way of looking at the world. These points of view may or may not complement each other, but since there’s no way to really prove anything, all we can do is get together and talk about the different ways we academics maintain our job security through the creation of elaborate and contrived jargons. Maybe our jargons will overlap somewhat, thereby giving us more than a snowball’s chance in hell of actually figuring something out about the world.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lecture Series about to begin

Next Monday we begin our 7th annual lecture series. It is a joint project of the university, college, public library and chaplaincy and a lot of fun. If you are in town check it out!

“And On the Seventh Day You Shall Do
No Work”: Contemporary Attitudes Towards
Work and Rest

7:00 PM
Lethbridge Public Library

“Cell Phones and E-Mail: New Shackles for a Modern Form of Slavery”
Erin Phillips, Chaplain, Ecumenical Campus Ministry
Monday, January 29th

“The Snack Mom Syndrome: Is There Anything left of Me After Work and Volunteering?”
Lisa Lambert, Project Coordinator, Women and Political Participation Project, Womenspace
Monday, February 5th

“Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight.”
Norman Wirzba, Department of Philosophy, Georgetown College, Kentucky
Monday, February 12th

7th Annual Lecture Series Sponsored by the Office of the President (U of L), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (U of L), the School of Health Sciences (U of L), the Office of the President (LCC), Lethbridge Public Library and Ecumenical Campus Ministry

Monday, January 22, 2007

Let the pain take you where you need to go

My cousin, Tim, just sent me the following piece by Ron Rolheiser. It is a very counter-cultural message but one that resonates with my own experience. It takes a similar view to Eugene Peterson's wonderful article "To Care and not to Care" (which is included in his wonderful book Subversive Spirituality).

Let the pain take you where you need to go
In Exile

During my last years of seminary training, I attended a series of lectures given by a prominent Polish psychologist, Casmir Dabrowski, teaching at the time at the University of Alberta. He had written a number of books around a concept he called "positive disintegration."

Positive disintegration. Isn't that an oxymoron? Isn't disintegration the opposite of growth and happiness?

It would seem not. A canon of wisdom drawn from the scriptures of all the major world religions, mystical literature, philosophy, psychology and human experience tells us that the journey to maturity and compassion is extremely paradoxical and that mostly we grow by falling apart.

Ancient myths talk about the need sometimes to "descend into the underworld," to live in darkness for a while, to sit in ashes so as to move to a deeper place inside of life; the mystics talk about "dark nights of the soul" as being necessary to bring about maturity; Ignatius of Loyola teaches that there is a place for both "consolation" and "desolation" in our lives; the Jewish Scriptures assure us that certain deep things can only happen to the soul when it is helpless and exposed in "the desert" or "the wilderness" and that sometimes, like Jonah, we need to be carried to some place where we'd rather not go "in the dark belly of the whale"; and, perhaps most challenging of all, we see that Jesus was only brought to full compassion through "sweating blood in Gethsemane" and then dying a humiliating death on the cross.

All of these images point to the same deep truth, sometimes in order to grow we must first fall apart, go into the dark, lose our grip on what's normal, enter into a frightening chaos, lose our everyday securities and be carried in pain to a place where, for all kinds of reasons, we weren't ready to go to on our own.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rocky Rocks

I went this afternoon to see Rocky Balboa with a friend. We both really enjoyed it. I loved the first movie, enjoyed the next couple and winced at the last one. I was afraid that this one might be another lame 'comeback' movie but it turned out to be a film about loss and grief and finding ways to carry on.

The film opens on Adrian and Rocky's anniversary but Adrian has died of 'women's cancer' so Rocky drags Paulie with him on a tour of their first date. Eventually Rocky does end up back in the ring but the training and fight scenes are brief. Mostly the film deals with Rocky's struggles to come to terms with his life without Adrian and without boxing. It is poignant and a little sad and a little hopeful and maybe even a little joyful.

Further to Adultescents

I watched the movie The Last Kiss last night expecting something similar to Garden State, a movie I loved. Zach Braff stars in it and I really like his acting. I was expecting another quirky comedy with a great soundtrack but it is no comedy. It does have a great soundtrack though. Interestingly it had a lot to say about twenty-something adults refusing to grow up.

It is the story of Michael, a 29 year old, successful architect, with a beautiful girlfriend. He's got three great friends he's known all his life and his life is turning out pretty much the way he expected. When his girlfriend Jenna becomes pregnant though he has a crisis and begins to flirt with disaster with a young college student. His friends are equally challenged when it comes to being a grown up. One has a job to support his drinking and sex life. One wants out of his marriage because life is tough with a new baby. And one quits the family business to drive to Mexico.

I liked the movie in a lot of ways. Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner play Jenna's parents and they are really good. They've been married, unhappily it seems, for 30 years and have a crisis to coincide with Michael's. In nice contrast to the young 'ens they maturely address all their problems and make a new start in the space of a day. Okay, I said I like their acting, I didn't say the story line was believable.

All through the movie, however, I kept thinking of young couples I know, some with young children, who are so different than this group. They don't see marriage and parenthood as the end of fun and beginning of a boring life. They make sacrificial decisions for the sake of their families and they delight in each other. Even if some of them have had difficulties figuring out what to do with their work lives they have healthy personal relationships.

Maybe that is the side to the Globe and Mail article that is missing. I do know many young adults who struggle with what to do with their education, what kind of work to pursue, and the economic realities of the burden of student loans. But many of these same young adults have made relationships a high priority and in some cases they are also looking for ways to express themselves creatively or to live more simply than the culture tells them they should.

Anyone have any suggestions of movies that depict young adults making those kind of choices?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A recent article in the Globe and Mail
suggests that young adults are finding it more and more difficult to grow up and take on adult responsibilities. The article suggests that changing economic changes have made it more difficult for people to get professional jobs without a lot more education (and therefore more debt) but also that the highly structured, busy childhoods have made people overly dependent on external sources of self-definition. An article in the New York Times before Christmas on the No Child Left Behind initiative in the US made a similar observation about elementary aged children. Studies have found that middle class children with all their activities learn social skills that aid them once they start school but that they also tend to have a major sense of entitlement.

The following is part of a movie review I wrote for the Sower of the movie Peter Pan where I raised some similar issues.

On the wall in my office I kept a bumper sticker for a long time that read, “beauty is vain, youth is fleeting, but immaturity can last for ever.” It was amusing but it pointed to a problem which Robert Bly described in his 1996 book The Sibling Society. In this book Bly argued that our culture is dominated by a desire to remain an adolescent. It is an intriguing argument and I think that there is plenty of evidence in pop culture to support his thesis that many people don’t want to grow up.

I had just read another author making the same argument when I went to see Peter Pan. It is a lovely film, visually beautiful and well acted. I haven’t enjoyed earlier film versions of this story - they’ve seemed too cute. But this most recent version released by Universal and directed by P.J. Hogan is not cute. The beauty of Neverland has an ugly side represented by the pirates. The darkness of Capt. Hook accentuates the sadness of Peter Pan who doesn’t want to grow up.

The story is a familiar one. Three children, played by a trio of unfamiliar but able young actors, run away from home with Peter Pan. They dream of adventure and are drawn by his story of a land with pirates and no parents. Once they arrive in Neverland they meet the lost boys, a small gang of boys who have no families and who see in Wendy the possibility of a mother. Unfortunately their paradise is spoiled by Capt. Hook who is obsessed with killing Peter Pan. Capt. Hook is in turn hunted by the crocodile who has eaten his hand and who now has a taste for him.

What makes Peter Pan more than a typical children’s fantasy (in fact I would be careful not take young children to see it if they are easily frightened), is the attention paid to the pathos of a boy who won’t grow up. At the beginning of the film we see Wendy’s fears of her aunt’s (played marvelously by Lynn Redgrave) plans to turn her into a ‘young lady.’ Yet once she is in Neverland it is Wendy who keeps challenging Peter Pan to grow up. Despite her desire at one level to remain a child who plays with other children it is Wendy who takes on the responsibility of ‘mothering’ the lost boys. As Wendy makes plans to return to her parents with the lost boys we are mindful of her mother’s words at the beginning of the film that sometimes the most courageous thing to do is to put aside your own dreams for the sake of your family.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Divas and Princesses

Just got a wonderful email from two very dear friends - I sent them the link to my blog and they wrote that I could have also called it Divinations of a Dustbowl Diva. I love that! It is particularly funny because other friends told me I'm no princess and should have called myself a diva but I wasn't willing to give up the alliteration. So good to know that I have an alternative in the wings!

I have resigned as the movie reviewer for The Sower. I'm looking forward to the freedom of a blog to talk about tv and books and other things. I'll miss the connection that the reviews created though with people in the diocese.

Here is one of the reviews I wrote for The Sower this summer.

“Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their children are established in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them.”
So asked the righteous Job in the midst of his suffering. And so have many others asked as they witnessed the wicked prosper while the innocent suffered. Match Point is Woody Allen’s latest answer to this question.
Match Point is the story of a tennis player who leaves the professional circuit after a mediocre career and takes a job as a pro at a London country club. What’s the difference between a great career and a mediocre career? Luck. Your ball touches the net and if you are lucky the ball goes over the net. If you aren’t it falls back to your side for match point.
Whatever Chris’ luck has been as a player it changes when he meets the wealthy Tom. The two hit it off and Tom invites Chris to the opera where Chris meets Tom’s sister Chloe. Chloe sets her eyes on Chris and before you know it she is grooming him to become her husband. Her father gives him a job in one of his companies and soon Chris is wearing expensive clothes and is being chauffeured around London in a lovely car. While he comes from a poor Irish background he has learned how to behave around the upper classes and Chloe’s parents approve of the match.
They are less approving of Tom’s choice of a fiancee. He is engaged to an American would-be actress who chokes at auditions. Nola is beautiful and is used to men falling for her. She enjoys Tom and frankly enjoys his wealth. Unlike Chris, however, she doesn’t know how to play the upper class game with Tom’s parents. Tom’s mother does what she can to break up the relationship. This wouldn’t be a problem except that Tom, like the rest of this crew is shallow and unprincipled. Lucky for him, he falls for a more acceptable woman and dumps Nola.
This complicates matters for Chris who is obsessed with Nola. Unlucky for him that Tom ends their engagement after Chris has already married Chloe. But then it is unlikely he would have given up everything Chloe offered him for the sake of passion with Nola. Lucky for him that he is able to carry on an affair with Nola while being married to Chloe.
I won’t say anything more about the story because it is suspenseful and surprising and I don’t want to spoil that. But I will say that in the end Woody Allen seems to be saying that there is no justice in the universe. The universe is random and luck determines how you fare. And so maybe the innocent suffer while the wicked prosper but it all depends on which side of the net the ball falls.
This isn’t the first time that Allen has explored these issues. In his 1989 film, Crimes and Misdemeanors Martin Landau plays an ophthalmologist who has an affair that sours. When his mistress threatens to tell his wife he agonizes over what to do. He knows what he should do, he was raised in a religious home and knows that he should confess his infidelity to his wife and ask for her forgiveness. There is no guarantee that she will give it though and his brother offers him a more certain solution. He knows people who will ‘take care’ of her and no one need ever know about the affair.
For all his moral agonizing when it comes right down to it the doctor decides it would be better to have his mistress murdered. And he doesn’t get caught. His wife never finds out and two years later even his conscience isn’t bothering him. The righteous in the film are represented by the rabbi who is going blind and the philosopher who commits suicide.
When I first saw this film I desperately wanted the film to say that there was justice in the universe. I was studying the book of Job at the time and wrestling with the questions Job asks. In the end, though, I had to agree that as far as Allen is concerned the wicked aren’t punished, even by their consciences. It is a powerful yet ultimately disturbing film.
The same can be said about Match Point.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pizza and Games

If you are free tomorrow evening (Monday) and in Lethbridge feel free to drop by Christ Trinity Lutheran church (12th St. South just off 4th Ave) at 6:30 for pizza and games. Just bring your favourite topping - ECM will provide the rest. We had a lovely service tonight at Christ Trinity organized by our two new student chaplains, Lindsey and Miriam. We'll be gathering there for worship the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month at 7:00 pm. Feel free to drop by!

Little Parish on the Prairies

I had the Sunday off this week. Once a month the lay readers lead the service and today was the day. On the Sundays I'm not responsible for the service at Ascension I often help out with the Sunday School or do pulpit supply for one of ECM's sponsoring congregations (the chaplaincy is sponsored by the Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United churches). Today though I got to enjoy sitting in the pew.

This morning I got thinking about the Mystery Worshiper on I always enjoy reading it but today I started to wonder what folks would say if they were reporting on our little parish.

Our church began as a mission to the Japanese community following the war. Many Japanese Canadians had been interned in this area and ended up staying when the war was over. Our congregation has always been small and was never especially wealthy. Most of the folks made their livings farming or working in the trades. Most of the church and its furnishings were built by people in the parish and when the old hall burnt down they rebuilt it too.

Looking around this morning I wondered how the report would read on us. What would the mystery worshiper say reminded her of heaven and what reminded her of 'the other place.' As I was shivering I decided that one could legitimately criticize the lack of heat. But what would strike her as heavenly? So much of our worship is informal, announcement time is often a mixture of parish notices, personal words of struggles and blessings, and community events for those who live in Coaldale. People have been known to offer an addition or correction to the sermon and the passing of the peace isn't finished until Norma says it is finished. We don't sing the service and there is no choir. Our organ is old and I'm told we need to get it fixed.

There are churches in our diocese that do gorgeous liturgies with spectacular music but we aren't one of them. But I can honestly say that I have never been anywhere that understood more about what it is to 'worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,' as we sang this morning. When I look around at the people of the parish and think about the beauty of their lives, of their warmth and generosity to each other and to people in the community, I am very grateful that I am called to serve them. The mystery worshiper wouldn't know how much they care for each other, how generously they give to help those in need, or how kind they are to the children in the parish. Those are the things that you learn when you live with people. I know that the mystery worshiper would be made welcome and maybe she would say that, that the warmth of the fellowship reminded her of heaven.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Student Reconciliation Conference

I spend a good portion of today attending a student organized conference at the U of L on reconciliation. The students were all members of Trudy Govier's senior philosophy seminar last term and they decided they wanted to have a conference where they could present their term papers. It was good to see a group of students so enthusiastic about their studies and the papers were really interesting. The papers mostly dealt with issues of reconciliation in countries torn apart by civil war and/or genocide. The paper that intrigued me the most though was a paper on the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857. A wagon train traveling from Arkansas to California was ambushed by a group of Mormons and Paiutes in Utah and all but a few children were killed. Descendents of the victims have organized themselves to call for acknowledgement of what happened. The student looked at the reluctance of the LDS Church to acknowledge that the Church may have borne some responsibility for the climate in which militiamen could see their actions as acts of faith. He had some interesting suggestions about the doctrinal and historical reasons why the Church would find this difficult. Essentially the Church has taken the approach that a few bad apples don't represent the Church as a whole.

This certainly wouldn't be the first time a religious body refused to acknowledge that its doctrine or preaching might have contributed to a culture of hatred or violence.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In Praise of Theology

This week we started up our theology reading group again. We're reading Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It. I really like the book although some of the group have protested that it isn't theology. Others in the group were keen to read it though so we are. This reading group is one of my favourite parts of the chaplaincy. Paul Viminitz of the Philosophy dept at the University of Lethbridge and I started it years ago. Over the years people have come and gone. Right now we have a good core group of regulars but fewer students than the past few years. We had some really bright committed students who graduated last spring. This is one of the hard things about chaplaincy...saying goodbye to students when they move on.

The following is an article I wrote about the study of theology. It was published originally in The Sower.

In Praise of Theology

Growing up we spent our summers with the Isaac family and Phil Isaac, or Uncle Phil as my sister and I called him, spent hours teaching us to appreciate the natural realm. He would teach us how to identify plants, and interpret tracks. He taught us how to recognize developing weather patterns and how to make clam chowder from the clams we discovered at our favourite beach. When a spring storm pealed back a layer of limestone rock Uncle Phil identified the various fossils in the rock and told us that we were the first eyes to see these creatures as they had no eyes. For a kid who had grown up on stories of people living off the land Uncle Phil was the perfect adult. He was also the Associate Dean of Science at the University of Manitoba and a plant physiologist. When I went to university I wanted to be like him, combining the academic study of nature with the naturalist’s love of the outdoors.

Then I discovered theology. In my first year at the University of Winnipeg I took Introduction to the Bible with Carl Ridd. I still remember the paper I wrote on the Abrahamic covenant for Carl’s class. It was due at the beginning of December and I handed it in at the beginning of March. For months I had been immersed in a hundred years of interpretation of the book of Genesis. I had learned about source criticism and textual manuscripts and Biblical archaeology. It was fascinating to follow debates about how to interpret a particular verse and to see them in the bigger context of debates over how to approach Genesis. Needless to say, my science courses suffered and the following year I returned to university as a religious studies major.

In my second year I took “Western Thought in the Making: Christian Bases” from Ken Hamilton. My first paper was on the Nicene Creed and I approached it the way I had my paper on Genesis. I read everything I could on the 3rd and 4th century debates on the trinity and I produced a paper, (on time because Ken was much stricter than Carl) on the Creed pleased because I thought I had a good grasp on the nuances of the debate. I was more than just a little crushed when I got it back though with a decent grade but this question written on the last page, “what difference would it have made if the Arians had won?” It had never occurred to me to ask the question of what difference theology made.

Later I would take a number of courses with Tom Graham, who was also an Anglican priest, and he taught me to take seriously what he called the ‘so what’ of academic work. These profs taught me that at its best the academic study of theology and the Bible never loses sight of the lived faith it informs.

I went on to do graduate studies, first at Wilfrid Laurier University and then at McMaster University. I was blessed with teachers like Peter Erb and John Robertson who combined a deep Christian faith and commitment to the church with a rigorous intellectual approach to the mysteries of our faith. It was Peter who taught me that when Christians talk about the mystery of God, of the incarnation, of the atonement, they are not talking about that which can not be understood but that which can never be exhausted. We can spend a lifetime studying these mysteries and not come to an end. Rather than find it discouraging that there was always more to read and to study than time would allow Peter would say with glee, ‘but that is what eternity is for!’

Now that I minister on two campuses and in a parish I try to share that same passion for loving God with our minds that I discovered at university. One of my greatest joys is the theology reading group I have lead for seven or eight years now. Each year brings its own insights and joys but the highlight for me was probably the year we read Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace. This is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read but also one of the most important. In it Volf engages the question of what does it mean for a Christian to love his or her neighbour. Out of his own experience as a Croatian he writes about the Christian imperative to seek reconciliation in a world of violence. It is an amazing book but not for casual reading. Yet it has shaped my preaching and teaching and I hope that in this way Volf’s insights are communicated to our community.

I have been blessed with theology profs who like Uncle Phil have been able to translate their academic interests into a kind of teaching that benefits those outside the university. I hope that through my study and preaching that I am able to be a part of that translation process. And in the end it turned out that my switch in majors wasn’t all that dramatic for I have learned in my studies that theology has traditionally been called the “Queen of the sciences.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Everything is Illuminated

For the past few years I've been writing movie reviews for The Sower, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary. This was a review I wrote of one of my favourite movies of 2006. I've watched it a couple more times since writing this and have read the book. I'm back to thinking that I don't really understand it. I love the movie more every time I see it though.

The first time I watched Everything is Illuminated it wasn’t. I didn’t get the ending of the film The second time I watched the movie I got it - or I think I did.

Everything is Illuminated is a film adaptation by Liev Schreiber of an award winning first novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is a quirky story of three men and a dog on a road trip to discover the past.

One of the men is an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer played by Elijah Wood. He is an odd young man who shows little affect. He collects artifacts of his dead relatives in ziplock baggies and mounts them on his bedroom wall.

When his grandmother is dying she gives him a photo of his grandfather as a young man and a young woman. His family believes that this young woman, Augustine, saved his family from the Nazis. After his grandmother’s death he sets out to Ukraine to find Augustine and to thank her for his family.

He hires a firm, Heritage Tours, to take him on the journey to find his grandfather’s village. Heritage Tours is a family business established by Alex, the grandfather, in the ‘50s to help rich American Jews search for traces of their families who have been lost in the war. Now it is run by Alex, the son, who sends Alex, the grandson to translate for Jonathan.

Grandfather and father are anti-semitic, resentful that they make their living by serving Jewish tourists. Young Alex, played brilliantly by Eugene Hutz, is infatuated with everything American especially “Negroes.” He would rather spend his time in discos where he is a "premium dancer" who is often "carnal with the ladies". He narrates this story of “a Very Rigid Search” and this is how he speaks English. It is as if he has swallowed a thesaurus but has never actually heard English spoken.

The grandfather is grieving the loss of his wife and has decided he is blind. But this does not stop his son from demanding that he drive the American and his grandson in search for the village of Trachimbrod.

Fortunately they take along his seeing eye dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. who isn’t much of a seeing eye dog and who is mentally deranged. She is named for the grandfather’s favourite singer who he refuses to believe was Jewish. So begins the journey of three men and a dog in a Soviet era car that looks like it will fall apart at any minute.

As in all good road movies our group encounter adventures and mysterious strangers. As events unfold we begin to suspect that this is not just an important journey for Jonathan. Grandpa too is entering into the past the closer they get to Trachimbrod.

When they arrive they discover another collector who is able to tell them what they need to know. Like Jonathan she has been preserving evidence of a village’s existence. She is able to illuminate the past and in doing so casts light on the present as well.

In the end the three men and the dog form deep connections and what began as a bizarre kind of comedy becomes something more serious and more moving. And yet, even as it faces the darkness and the evil of the Nazis' persecution of the Jews of Europe the film is able to strike some odd and even joyous notes.

There is much I liked about this film. Besides all the offbeat characters and the translation humour the story of a young man trying to preserve the memory of the past is very moving. It is also beautifully filmed with dramatic shots of fields of sunflowers with contrasting shots of rusted out WW II tanks and decrepit Soviet buildings. The decaying evidence of past violence and oppression parallels the marks left by the war on the lives of two young men born decades after it finished.

Everything is Illuminated is also driven by a marvelous soundtrack. Much of the music was composed by Paul Cantelon and captures a wonderful Eastern European sound. There are also cuts from a variety of bands including Eugene Hutz gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. The music manages to capture the joy and the sadness that lies at the heart of this story.

Little Mosque on the Prairies

Little Mosque on the Prairies premiered this week and apparently 2.1 million people were watching. I watched it and enjoyed it. It is drawing comparisons to Corner Gas because they are both Canadian comedies set in small town Saskatchewan but they have a different feel. I'm a huge fan of Corner Gas which moves at a slower pace than Little Mosque. Dog River is a smaller town, the cast is smaller and the scope of the stories is smaller. If I had any criticism of Little Mosque it was that it was a little too hyper - it felt more like Ontario than Saskatchewan. But it shows great promise.

Just starting out

A few years ago when I began to write movie reviews for our diocesan paper my friend Andrew suggested the column be called Peregrinations of a Pop Culture Princess. I loved the title but the Sower went with something much more mundane. Now that I'm starting out with this I decided to revive the name. I love alliteration and it sounds like something Andrew would say.

So now I have a name....just need to do some peregrinating now!