Thursday, September 27, 2007

More mulling

Tim made some really good comments in response to this morning's mullings that have got me thinking more about the issues he raised in his post last night.

Last summer I spent an afternoon with a group of friends and we had a long conversation about community. We split into two distinct groups. For those of us born and raised before the age of internet (I only got email about 15 years ago) community was about eating meals together, taking soup to a sick friend, lending a hand with a chore, spending an evening watching a movie.... For the group born more recently community was about finding a like minded group, usually on line, to talk with. The conversation became quite heated as they argued that it wasn't safe, nor desirable, to get to know your neighbours.

Part of the issue was their perception of safety and vulnerability which is a whole issue in itself. But part of it was what Tim is raising and that is the tendency to disembodied or 'gnostic' relationships. I think he is right that we are tempted to find in internet 'community' relationships where we get none of the hassles, or the joys, of relating to real live in the flesh people. I don't think it is a coincidence that none of the younger folks in our conversation were involved in a church or community organization where they would be forced to work together with people very different than themselves. I too think that this is really problematic.

I guess my point in raising Paul and 84 Charing Cross Road was to say that it is possible to develop relationships of significance only through written form. But I certainly agree that in those relationships is also a longing for physical presence. Helen laments that because of circumstances she is unable to make it to London to meet Frank in the flesh before he dies. And Paul had visited these churches he would later correspond with. And I look forward to meeting Tim one day too :-)

Part of the issue Tim is raising relates I think to the issues of vulnerability and safety that my friends raised. Part of the advantage they see in relating through the internet is that they think that it is safer. They can conceal their identity, they can choose what they reveal of themselves to others, they can conceal themselves if things get creepy. We tried to argue that it makes you safer when you know your neighbours (never mind enriching your life in so many ways) but they didn't buy it.

What astounds me now that I'm on facebook and reading blogs is how often people don't seem to worry about safety (emotional, financial, physical) when they reveal all sorts of things on line. And as Tim points out people are often not very civil on line. One of the older participants in our conversation last summer made the point that people have a really odd inverted sense of 'privacy' when they don't want their neighbour to have their phone number but they talk about their sex lives on the internet.

I have discovered all sorts of interesting books, music, films, art by reading blogs. And I've 'met' some interesting people. I've read some interesting reflections and I have gotten some great ideas for my ministry. But I'm mindful of my friend who said she decided she should start spending more time with her 'in the flesh' family and less time on line with her virtual community.

Btw, our spring lecture series put on by the chaplaincy/university/college and public library this year will be on friendship and I hope one of the talks will be on virtual friendships. Stay tuned for more details.

This is on the top of my pile of books to read

Re-Enchantment of the World


We live in a strange time.

We live in a strange time, in which religious belief seems to be flourishing, church attendance is high, evangelical preachers are household names and traditionalist congregations are more populous than ever. And yet one has only to turn on the television, go to a movie theater, look at a newsstand or read about, say, sex-education courses in the public schools to feel that our society is almost militantly at odds with revealed religion and biblical teaching.

Meanwhile, tracts on atheism ride the best-seller lists alongside books of soft spiritual uplift from mega-church pastors. What age are we living in, exactly?

A secular one, says Charles Taylor, the distinguished Canadian philosopher and political theorist (and winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize). But his answer is complicated and in no way meant to suggest that religious sentiment is fated to disappear anytime soon. Far from it. A Secular Age tries to explain the modern world to itself in all its contradictions. These include, within a secular culture, the persistence of profound religious conviction and fervent religious observance.

In previous works such as The Sources of the Self (1989) and The Ethics of Authenticity (1991) Mr. Taylor had described the genesis of a distinctively modern self-consciousness as well as offering a broadly "communitarian" reflection on the strengths and limits of liberal society. A Secular Age is the culmination of Mr. Taylor's intellectual project, a project aimed, ultimately, at defining what it means to be modern.

Read the rest here.

Some mullings

Paul maintained a relationship with Christian communities through letters.

Historically a number of famous friendships have been maintained through letters.

84 Charing Cross Road, the book and the movie, is a true story about a friendship that is conducted almost entirely through letters. Frank died before Helen met him.

Does this say something about the possibility of friendships/community being established or maintained through letters?

Are letters different than the internet?

Are we ruder on the internet because we are disembodied from each other or are we ruder because we are becoming less civil everywhere?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Things to mull over

This is something I'm thinking about these days too.

From Tale Spin

Tim’s late night questions about the Internet.

I’ve been musing on these issues on and off for the last few days. These questions are rough and in no particular order:

Is it possible to find real community on the Internet?

Does real community not necessarily involve physical presence, body language, shared meals, hugs and so on?

If you said “No”, to the above, aren’t you some sort of Gnostic?

Why do so many people use pseudonyms on the Internet?

How is it possible to find real community with people when we aren’t even willing to tell them our real names?

Why is it so easy to demonise people we meet on blogs?

Why do so many blog discussions degenerate into name-calling?

Why do so many blogs become gatherings of the like-minded instead of places of genuine dialogue?

Is it possible to have real community amongst the like-minded? Don’t we need dissent and difference? Isn’t it a bit of a snare to be able to choose our community, rather than having to learn to love the real community we find ourselves in?

Why do I let myself get so involved in blog arguments and discussions, when experience in the real world has taught me many times that argument hardly ever changes anyone’s mind?

Would you say that this scripture describes the Christian blogosphere?
'Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you'.
I was just wondering.

Boston Legal - Season 4 begins

Just a couple of quick comments about last night's Boston Legal episode. It was interesting see them tackle the issue of corporate sponsorship of university research. Alan Shore's plea for independence in research was wonderful. I'm not so sure I like the changes in the cast. I'm going to miss Paul Lewiston and the Ken doll. We'll see. I do love Clarence and Jerry though - I'm glad we'll be seeing more of them. Thanksgiving and my Boston Legal, Season 3 marathon beckons!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Unchurch Week 3

We held our third week of Unchurch last night and I'm still stoked. Becky and I have been preaching on foundational stories, the birth of Moses, the burning bush, and last night the passover. I looked at Exodus 12 and talked about the way in which the people were called out to fulfill their vocation as the people of God. I started by looking at something Jon Levenson has written about - that the freedom given the Hebrews is not freedom as we usually think of it. It is not freedom from constraint but freedom to serve God. It is leaving the service of Pharoah who is oppressive to serve God who is loving and righteous. At the end of that chapter are instructions for how the foreigners are to be treated. There is only one Torah for Hebrew and foreigner so foreigners can participate in the passover if they first are circumcised. So the distinction between who is in the community and who is not is not racial, biological, or even based on participation in a significant event like the exodus but is rather the willingness to serve God. And it is the willingness to be a part of the community. I finished by looking at Martin Luther King's last sermon the day before he was martyred. He talked about the way in which Pharoah planted seeds of disunity among the slaves and called on African Americans to remain a community in the face of opposition and in those famous closing words he spoke of knowing that he was serving God and how he had seen the promised land.

Our discussion afterwards was incredible. My favourite element of Unchurch is the response to the word in our conversation. The starting off point was someone's objection that God would choose some and not others and that He would kill the first born of Egypt. So we had a long conversation about the problem of reading troublesome texts. And then the issue turned to who belongs to the community and who doesn't and what happens if you feel like you are the kid Jesus didn't pick to be on his team. We're getting to know each other better and people are speaking more and more personally about their struggles with faith, the church, Scripture. I don't know where this is going but I am so grateful to be a part of it. The only problem is that I can't fall asleep Monday nights anymore because my brain is going a mile a minute.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Harry Potter - minor beasts (updated)

The young son of friends of mine, Luc Moulaison, has posted his first entry on Wikipedia. Here it is:

Acromantula XXXXX

This is a huge carnivorous spider, and an invention of JKR. The name derives from the Latin "acro", meaning "highest" or "extreme", along with "-antula" from the word "tarantula", a large spider. Therefore the name may be interpreted as "extreme spider".

The Acromantula is covered in thick black hair and can grow up to 15 feet in size [FB]. It was created by wizards, and probably intended as a guard creature. They are, however, untrainable and extremely dangerous. They have near-human intelligence and are capable of speech, but this doesn't mean you can reason with them. Hagrid had an Acromantula called Aragog as a pet while he was in his third year at Hogwarts. It was suspected to be the creature from the Chamber of Secrets (which it wasn't) and Hagrid was expelled from school. Aragog escaped and set up what is now a well-populated colony in the Forbidden Forest [COS15]. Aragog is now deceased, but the colony continues to thrive [HBP22].

Lord Voldemort somehow convinced the remaining Acromantula to join the Death Eaters in their attack on Hogwarts, although it is not made clear how he did so. It seems fair to assume it involved an offer of letting them eat a lot of fallen enemies, however. They scaled the walls of the castle in search of prey: on one occasion Harry held them back with a Stunning spell, but it seems unlikely that it kept them away for long [DH32]. Voldemort later used their deserted nest as his base within the Forbidden Forest as he waited for Harry to come and give himself up [DH34].

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Discovering our spiritual type

Last weekend our student chaplains and I went on retreat. We went to the Martha Retreat Centre for some time apart to get to know each other and to do some planning. Part of what we did was work with some material from Corinne Ware's book Discover Your Spiritual Type. Ware develops a questionnaire on spiritual preferences using the classic spiritual typology developed by Anglican theologian, Urban Holmes.

The diagram is my rather pathetic attempt to use the paint programme to draw the typology. The horizontal axis is about whether you know things through your head (speculative - ideas) or through your heart (affective - emotions). The vertical horizon is whether you are drawn to the ways in which God is revealed (kataphatic) or to the ways in which God is mystery (apophatic).

If you are head/kataphatic inclined your spirituality is more centred on the head - doctrine, theology, sermons etc. If you are heart/kataphatic then you are more centred on the heart - feelings, experience, heart felt faith etc. If you are heart/apophatic you are more drawn to the mystical, the spiritual journey (journey is a big word for you), and aren't concerned too much about colouring inside the lines. If you are head/apophatic you are more drawn to a spirituality of the hands, service, embodied spirituality. Ware is interested in what happens when there are differences between the spirituality of a congregation and an individual (particularly that of clergy - this is an Alban Institute publication). Ideally people move to an integrated spirituality and Holmes suggests that it is helpful to try to find balance by moving to the opposite. And this I think is true of groups as well as individuals.

The four of us represented all four types and had an interesting discussion about what moves us and why. Part of it is personality but part of it is also experience. I used to come out heart centred which I think was the balancing of my work life which is so centred on the head. But after more than a decade of ministry I find myself more and more drawn to the mystery of God.

I did a service once where I choice hymns from each of these types, a heavy theological hymn, an old emotional revival hymn about personal experience, a simple chant and a hymn about service and talked about Holmes typology in my sermon. I think my parish is heart and hand centred for the most part and people are pretty generous about differences so we don't tend to have worship wars. But I did think that it was helpful to be aware that different things feed the souls of other people. I've come to realize that if I preach a really idea centred sermon that people don't really get into it. The ideas have to be connected in strong ways to experience.

I think with the chaplaincy that we are aware that we need to offer different ways for people to connect that reflect these kinds of differences in spiritual preferences and so we're glad we understand all four of them between us. I'm excited to see what the year is going to bring and to see how these gifted young women will grow in their ministries.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Theology Reading Group

Tomorrow night we start our discussion of Miroslav Volf's The End of Memory. I can't wait. Tonight we held Unchurch and the discussion was wonderful. More later. But in honour of these two things the following:

I think that often atheists are closer to God than any theists, than any Christians. It’s taking God seriously to rebel against God.

Miroslav Volf

The Emmys were tonight

Congratulations to James Spader. Alan Shore, you are my hero.

Season 4 begins September 25th. Amazon sent me an email today saying Season 3 is in the mail to me!!!!! I see a marathon Boston Legal session in my plans for Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bruce Cockburn concert

I love the CBC. I'm listening to concert Bruce Cockburn gave in Banff and it is wonderful. There are a number of concerts on the site - don't know how long they leave them on but I hope they leave this one there. I love Cockburn - especially when he is acoustic like he is in this concert. One of the things I want to do before I die is see him in concert live. And barring that I'm looking forward to that eternal concert in the New Jerusalem.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I just came back from a retreat with our student chaplains and it was sweet. We went to the Martha Retreat Centre across the river from the university and did some great planning and bonding. The sisters are wonderful and we ate well and felt really cared for. Sr. Claire took this picture of us looking over to the university. I'll write more later about some of what we talked about - I have to get the powerpoint presentation ready that we're giving to Christ Trinity Lutheran Church tomorrow. But it was a sweet time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Checks and Balances

When I went into grade 11 our high school established a new policy. In order to get a locker students had to sign a release giving the school permission to search our lockers without our consent or even knowledge. Their justification was that if there was a bomb threat or if they suspected drug use they needed to be able to get into a locker easily.

I opposed the policy and my parents supported me. I argued that if there was a bomb threat they would call the police and under those circumstances the police had the right to open a locker without consent. If they suspected drugs they should call in the parents and get their consent and failing that they could get a warrant. It certainly wasn't an emergency in that case.

My parents argued with the administration as well but in the end I chose to go without a locker rather than sign the consent. The vice principal told me sternly that if I stored my stuff in another student's locker that they could still search it. I told him that wasn't the point. I didn't use drugs, I didn't keep contraband in my locker. The point was that I was entitled to certain civil rights and he was infringing on them. I still think I was right.

Today the CBC reported that Stockwell Day's office is trying to make it possible for the government to gather information on people's phone and internet use without a court order. The requirement that the state has to get consent from the court before prying into a person's private life is one of the forms of checks and balances we have on their powers. The thought that this government is quietly trying to remove those checks and balances terrifies me. The stakes are a lot higher than they were in high school but the principles are the same.

Monday, September 10, 2007

First Night of Unchurch

Well, Unchurch has been birthed and it was wonderful. We had a good group and Becky preached on the birth of Moses. The discussion centred on the issue of the women deception for a good cause and the issue of what role God had in the saving of Moses. Following the sermon there is time for discussion and most people spoke up with thoughts and response. It was a great way to begin! Round St. Cafe is a really hospitable place to meet. Can't wait until next week.

Great News from the Vet

For those of you following the saga of Robbie's congestive heart failure there is great news. The horrible cough he has that has kept us awake the last two nights is actually a throat infection. His lungs and heart sound good so antibiotics should clear it up no problem.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


It has been a very full weekend with a board retreat for ECM yesterday and our Sunday School start up and a baptism this morning. The retreat was great. We did some great brainstorming and visioning and had a lot of fun in the process.

The baptism this morning was really wonderful too. I preached about the way in which Jesus challenged family relationships and created a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ. (In there I spoke about the women who were martyred in the early church for defying their fathers). I talked about how we made a commitment to be family to the people baptized in our church. I finished by saying that we don't just renew our baptismal vows today but we also renew the vows we made to our children to support them in their lives of faith. The only glitch was that I forgot to invite the kids back in for the baptism. Oy. Robbie is having another bad episode of congestive heart failure and I was up most of the night with him. I was so proud of myself for getting everything set up this morning and not forgetting anything and then I forgot that. Oh well. I had them come in afterwards and gather at the font. We talked about the significance of baptism and the kids blessed themselves with the water. People seemed to appreciate it and no one gave me a hard time about my memory lapse.

Robbie is doing a bit better and I had a great afternoon with some friends. They gave me a Chapters gift card for my birthday (Charles Taylor's A Catholic Modernity? is ordered and on its way already!) and one of my very creative friends made this wonderful collage for me. I can't get the light quite right so you miss some of it but trust me - it makes me smile!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

Sad news tonight over on In a Godward Direction. Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday. Fr. Tobias has a lovely story about her at worship that I commend to your reading. Everything I've ever read about her or by her made me think that I liked her very much.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Faithfulness that inspires and that which doesn't

There is quite a lot of talk in the Anglican blogsphere about the Nigerian bishop who apparently said that gays and lesbians were inhuman and not fit to live. I don't comment on my blog very often about the argument that is going on in the church right now because I don't find much of it very edifying. These words are so awful, however, that it felt important to say something. But what? The last time I felt this physically ill when reading about the words/actions of Christians is when I read a news report about a RC priest facing prosecution for war crimes during the Rwandan genocide. How anyone could justify the dehumanization of a group of people or acts of violence towards them and think that it is done in the name of Jesus is incomprehensible to me.

This weekend I rewatched Entertaining Angels. It is an okay movie about an amazing saint, Dorothy Day. She was a communist journalist who came to faith because of the way she saw the church care for the poor. Her commitment to the poor and oppressed took on a whole new dimension as she lived a voluntary life of poverty creating soup kitchens and homes of hospitality through the depression. Later she was active in the civil rights movement and then the anti-nuclear movement. She was getting arrested for demonstrating into her 70s and continued to inspire generations of young people to spend time in Catholic Worker houses serving the poor. Her courage and faithfulness has always made me really uncomfortable with the comfort I live in.

I was mindful of her witness as I read Tobias Haller's latest posting on the Martyrs of Memphis. His very moving account of the witness of these people who cared for the sick in the midst of a Yellow Fever epidemic makes a really important point about what the virtue of fortitude looks like in the face of danger. We may be called on to commit spontaneous acts of courage but we are certainly called on to make those long term commitments of courage to serve those who are in need. Again, his posting made me uncomfortable with my life of comfort. This is a very different kind of discomfort than that produced by reading the reports from Nigeria.

Jesus said, whoever serves me must follow me — and sometimes that following will be the headlong leaping to cover a grenade with ones’ own body, or to enter an inferno and throw someone else to safety even as one perishes; sometimes that following will be a sudden bare-handed wrenching apart of the lethal mass that threatens life and limb — but more often, that following will be the slow and deliberate way of service to others, the way that with hands busy putting others first, sets the self down unselfconsciously on the shelf, sometimes misplacing it, and sometimes losing it. The way that follows Jesus is the way of the cross. Whoever serves him must follow him, and like it or not, that is the way he went, and that is what he carried.

Whether on the road to Jerusalem or the road to Memphis, Jesus goes before us, bearing his cross, and where he is, there will his servant be.+

From In a Godward Direction

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First Day at the College

Today was my first day back at the college in my new office. I got there to discover that nothing had been set up and it looked like an elephant had gone through our new counseling area. They have built a bunch of new offices in what used to be testing rooms and there is dust and muck everywhere. But I now have a window and it even opens and who needs a phone and computer when you can get fresh air.

I also found out today that the college, which dropped the word 'community' from its name in the spring, has also adopted a new logo and colours. Despite the attempt to rebrand the college the place still felt the same...the same chaos, the same confusion, the same energy, the same excitement, the same feeling of new beginnings....

I love the beginning of a new term!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chaplaincy website

The chaplaincy has a new website - check it out at

And ECM has a blog too at


Today was NSO at the university - that is new student orientation for those of you not hip to these things. It was a lot of fun handing out candy and brochures with two of our new student chaplains. The president of the university, Bill Cade addressed the crowd and got them fired up. Which is pretty good because a lot of them looked like bunnies in the headlights when I was chatting with them. Many of them said that they felt really overwhelmed. One of the great things about working on campuses is I get that first day of school rush every year myself. Gotta love it!

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm Back!

Saskatchewan is great and my holidays were wonderful (as you can see Robbie enjoyed some relaxation too) but it is fun to be back to see my new back porch. The long list of work emails and phone messages were less exciting. I don't have pictures of my porch yet and cabinets of some sort still need to go in but here is the picture of the tile lay out that my friend who did the work sent me for approval. Love that cross design! Now that the tile is grouted it is straighter than it is in the pictures. And now that all the old carpeting is pulled out the dumpster is full! And I have a lot more purging to do yet.

The other treat I came home to was a brand new copy of Peter Erb's new book Murder, Manners, Mystery: Reflections on Faith in Contemporary Detective Fiction. Thank you Amazon! Peter and I share a love of detective fiction and this is his reflection on the theological themes that appear in some contemporary mystery writers. Peter was my MA supervisor and he has a delightful ability to make insightful comments on 19th cent. Catholic theology one moment and rhapsodize on the joys of cheezie movies the next. I've started the book already - haven't even finished unloading my van - and it is delightful.

On that note one of really enjoyable time of my holidays was spent reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. After a miserable divorce Gilbert takes a year to travel to Italy, to eat pasta, to an ashram in India, to pray, and to Bali to find balance (and incidently fall in love). She writes really frankly about her personal struggles (sometimes so frankly I blushed) and she sees the humour in a lot of it. I laughed outloud a lot while reading it.

Now I have to finish emptying the van.