Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Friendship Series

Our series on friendship continues tonight at the library and I'm looking forward to hearing what John von Heyking has to say about the possibilities of friendship in a liberal democracy.

Last week I spoke about the tension within the Christian tradition between the recognition of the ways in which friendship can deepen our love of God and can be seen as a gift of grace from God and the commitment to a more universal, non-exclusive love of neighbour. This dance between exclusive, particular committed relationship and an openness to others plays itself out in so many places and in so many kinds of relationships. Here's to being light on our feet.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Technology

Well, I've figured out how to use the little camera on my computer - how cool is this.

New technology

Well I have a new laptop.  My old one was giving me all sorts of trouble so I decided it was time to upgrade.  I didn't want to deal with Vista so I've gone over to a Macbook.  So far I'm loving it although I still have some glitches to work out with my wireless and mail settings.  I don't know anyone who likes Vista and a number of people have told me recently that they are switching or have switched over to Mac because of it.  You wonder why Microsoft doesn't do more to get the bugs worked out.  I know from checking out the stat programme I run that very few people who come to this blog are running Vista.

My Mac friends will be delighted and I'm sure I will become an obnoxious convert - especially since I can run Microsoft programmes on this baby.  Now to transfer everything over to it.  See you in a month :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Friendship Talk

Last night we began our lecture series on friendship. Bill Cade, the president of the U of L, gave a very funny and interesting introduction to the series using examples of friendship from the insect realm and then I gave my talk on whether it is possible for Christians to be friends. More on that later.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hospital chaplains

For years what ER has really needed was a good chaplain written in. They've had clergy come in as patients and occasionally had clergy come in to minister to a dying person but no chaplain. Well, this season they finally get one and she is so lame it hurts.

Last night's episode is a case in point. One story line saw a prison doctor save the life of a young boy from drowning. It turns out that he was responsible for executing 17 prisoners including the boy's father. He has come to the conviction that he was wrong to execute these prisoners and is now doing everything he can to make amends to the families before he dies. He is convinced that what he has done isn't enough and that he will be condemned to hell for killing the inmates. The doctors call in the chaplain to help relieve his torment and she is as helpful as spitting on a forest fire.

She says nothing of significance, doesn't understand his fear, and walks away distraught because she was able to bring no relief. In a scene with one of the doctors she says that she was ordained, she studied Buddhism, she went to an ashram, she thought that kind of synthesized approach would be good in a hospital but what people want when they are suffering is certainty and she can't provide it. Well, duh.

The issue of how to provide spiritual care in secular institutions is a complex one but I don't think the answer is to create some kind of weird esperanto of religious language that speaks to no one and for no one. There is an implicit criticism of the patient in describing what he wants as certainties. I think that what is at the base of this is the idea that people who are firmly within a religious tradition and take the worldview seriously are really people looking for fixed answers because they can't handle ambiguity or uncertainty. Someone who is satisfied by her vague, contentless reassurances is obviously much more spiritually mature.

The patient is tormented because he believes he is a moral agent and that his actions have consequences. Her platitudes aren't just useless, they are insulting, because she fails to take him seriously. She is in effect dismissing his ability to earn damnation, not for theological reasons - she isn't arguing that his repentance is all God needs to forgive him or that God does not condemn people to hell - she is neither a Lutheran or an universalist - but because no one would take the idea that human beings can do things worthy of condemnation seriously. When she concludes that she has nothing to offer patients I responded - ain't that the truth!

How different was the story line a few years ago when Luka treats a bishop dying of Lupus. The bishop sees Luka's torment over the death of his family and speaks words of absolution with authority.

Friends would say to me, it is just a tv show, and it is of course. But the issues raised by this episode get played out in chaplaincy programmes in many places. And you have to wonder how many struggling patients/students/prisoners get offered this kind of spiritual pablum.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Religion on Campus

The December 2007 issue of The Journal of Higher Education Academic Matters is on religion on Canadian campuses. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Unchurch on Salvation

We decided this Lent to look at atonement in Unchurch and are leading up to it by looking at images of salvation in scripture. We began Monday evening by looking at Luke 15 and talking about what it is to be lost. My favourite image of Jesus is the image of the Good Shepherd - it is largely because of the story of the lost sheep that I came to faith when I was 17. So we talked about the three parables and about being lost and found. Of course we sang Amazing Grace.
I am so looking forward to this term!

(Real Live Preacher got me hooked on the wonderful clipart of Steve Erspamer and I recently purchased the three volumes of clipart for the lectionary. For reasons I don't understand only years A and C had accompanying cds so don't expect to see images from year B).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chasing Francis

After reading Maggie Dawn's comments yesterday about the novel Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron I went down to our local Christian bookstore and bought it. It isn't a heavy read and I just finished it. It was a good read in many ways...'creaky' as Maggie described it in others.

It is the story of Chase Falson, a pastor of an Evangelical megachurch in New England who goes on pilgrimage to Italy with his uncle, a Franciscan, when his faith goes off the rails. Spending time in the places where Francis ministered in the company of Franciscans helps Chase reimagine and rediscover his faith.

There were a number of things I appreciated about the novel. I too have found that old certainties have become less solid to me over time in ministry. People's lives and God's grace just don't seem to fit all the nice categories I used to have. And I too have found comfort, challenge, new insight from returning to the lives of the saints. I say returning because unlike Chase who is thoroughly shaped by a Protestant evangelical sub-culture my early formation took place in Catholic communities.

There is a lot of good material about Francis and Franciscan spirituality as well for people, especially folks interested in the Emergent Church movement. But if I had a basic criticism of the novel it is the same one that Maggie made:

There are pages where the story has to stand still while a sermon is preached or a lesson delivered. I wonder if there isn't something inherent in the form of fiction that demands that you can't absolutely make a point and still have fiction that lives and breathes.

There is a certain irony when Chase returns to his church and tells them that they need to stop treating the faith as if it is principally a matter of the head instead of something transcendent because much of the novel does read like a lecture on Franciscan spirituality. He says that they have to show people the faith and not load them up with books and yet the first thing his uncle does when he arrives in Italy is load him up with books. His journal which runs through the novel reveals much more about what he is reading than it does what he is experiencing. The most compelling parts of the book for me are instead when Chase goes to Mass and when he serves in a soup kitchen and then AIDS hospice.

It strikes me that there is a difference between Christian fiction and fiction written by Christians that has to do with whether or not the primary focus is make a point or to tell a story. In Chase's words:

"I'm beginning to see that there's a difference between art that trusts beauty's simple power to point people to God and Christian art that's consciously propagandistic. My Uncle Kenny, with whom I spent most of my time in Italy, said something profound--that you can make art about the Light, or you can make art that shows what the Light reveals about the world. I think the latter is what we want to do."

Yet I think in many ways Chasing Francis is still an example of the former. Graham Greene and Frederick Buechner would be better examples of the latter.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Which Theologian are You?

Which theologian are you?
created with
You scored as Jürgen Moltmann

The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jürgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Martin Luther


John Calvin


Karl Barth


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich




Jonathan Edwards


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Annual Lecture Series

"Why Can't We Be Friends?  possibilities for friendship in the 21st century"

Eight Annual Lecture Series
Wednesday Evenings
7:00 pm
Lethbridge Public Library

Jan. 23rd Erin Phillips, Ecumenical Campus Ministry,
"Can Christians be friends?"

Jan. 30th John von Heyking, University of Lethbridge,
"Can Canadians be friends?"

Feb 6th Bruce MacKay, University of Lethbridge,
"Can people with disabilities be friends?"

Feb 13th Marko Hilgersom, Lethbridge College,
"Can e-Friends be friends?"

Co-sponsored by Ecumenical Campus Ministry, Office of the President,
Lethbridge College, Office of the President, University of Lethbridge,
and Lethbridge Public Library


I haven't had much time, or maybe better said, much inclination to blog lately. Robbie has been having another really bad bout of congestive heart failure and I've not been getting much sleep lately. I thought Saturday night that maybe the time had come to put him down but then he bounced back. We went into see his vet yesterday - she's fantastic - and she had done some research and found we still have a few treatment options. So we upped his meds and we're monitoring him and hoping to get him stabilized again. She said he might see 2009 but realistically I'm hoping he sees Easter. If he makes it to then then we'll aim for Pentecost. He's chewing his rawhide right now quite oblivious to the anxiety he causes me.

When I'm not anxiously watching over him I'm trying to get everything started for the new term. We start our annual spring lecture series in a few weeks and I have to get my head around my talk. And then there is the Newfie supper we are organizing in the parish. Gotta love it! So life is full right now.

One quick film review - friends and I watched The Cemetery Club Sunday and it was very odd. This wasn't the American film from the early '90s about a group of widows meeting at the graves of their dead husbands. This is a new Israeli documentary about a group of seniors who meet weekly for discussion and community at the Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. At first it seemed so disjointed and all over the place that I was inclined to turn it off but after a bit we got sucked in to the story of two sisters-in-law who have been friends since before the war. One of the women was a lawyer and much of the focus in on her. Her story is an unhappy one despite significant honours in large part because it seems that growing up in the ghetto and then surviving the camps has left her emotionally really damaged. She is very self-absorbed and her sister-in-law takes the brunt of it. It was in the end a very difficult film to watch. As an older friend said to me recently after discussing Robbie's old age health issues, 'growing old is not fun.'

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Am Legend

On Monday a friend and I went and saw I Am Legend. It is a very good film, gripping, moving, disturbing, thought provoking. But if you love dogs it is also very difficult to watch in places. Over at the Journey Home Paul has some very interesting comments about the film. Will Smith connects the story of a scientist who is living alone in NY following a plague with the story of Job. There is a lot to seen in the movie including some discussion of the justice of God. I recommend it highly although the violence may be really distressing.

On a totally different note Little Mosque on the Prairie episodes are now available on itunes!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What does a triple grande non-fat latte say about me?

What Your Latte Says About You

You don't treat yourself very often. You find that indulging doesn't jibe with your very disciplined life.

You can be quite silly at times, but you know when to buckle down and be serious.

Intense and energetic, you aren't completely happy unless you are bouncing off the walls.

You're addicted to caffeine. There's no denying it.

You are responsible, mature, and truly an adult. You're occasionally playful, but you find it hard to be carefree.

You are complex and philosophical, but you are never arrogant.

The Year End Retrospective

Best film: The Lives of Others
Best read: Eat, Pray, Love

Reasons to be glad for this New Years :
dinner and a movie with my best friend
Robbie still kicking
going to the movies in the afternoon with a great kid

Life is grand!Robbie in his Christmas sweater


I've made a bunch of serious resolutions having to do with my time at the gym and eating healthy and all that fun stuff. But this is the resolution I really want to keep:

Wag more: bark less.

Thanks to Tale Spin for the link.