Friday, February 29, 2008

crazy days

It has been a long week since I last posted - it has been incredibly busy.  Lay readers' preaching workshop last Saturday, AGM on Sunday, Lenten Bible Study Sunday, regular work stuff all week with a whole bunch of extra meetings thrown in and some pension/house/insurance details to look after.  There are times when I really wish I had a personal assistant who ran behind me taking care of the details of life.  But then I think maybe I just need to unclutter my life a little and find more time to pay attention to things.

One really enjoyable thing I did this week was to take a few hours break and go see The Great Debaters with a friend.  What an inspiring movie.  It is based on the true story of a black college in Texas in the '30s whose debate team was so good that they took on the national champions, Harvard University.  In some ways it is a formula film (underdog school rises over obstacles) but it is so well acted (Denzel Washington is amazing and so is Forest Whitaker) and it is gritty enough in its depiction of race and poverty that it doesn't seem like a formula.

I also finished Sarah Paretsky's Fire Sale and thought it was great.  Paretsky writes mysteries with a hard boiled woman detective named V.I. Warshawsky and I've always enjoyed them.  This one is about trouble in her old neighbourhood on the South Side of Chicago.  She gets sucked into a mess while filling in for her old basketball coach.  It gives a glimpse into the problems of poverty and race still occurring today without the same assurance that in the end the underdog will prevail.  Good read.

Now today is my day off and I have a long long list of things to do so....

Friday, February 22, 2008

First Time Tagged

Paul has tagged me - my first time.

Here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.

Since my computer is right next to a bookcase I had a hard time deciding what the nearest book to me was but settled on this one because it is a library book and therefore seems to be resting here more lightly.

From Christopher Lasch's The True and Only Heaven:

To forget, however, is also to forgive: at a time when the memory of former wrongs kept alive enmities that otherwise might have been allowed to die, even this curious plea for a historical scholarship afflicted with amnesia made a certain kind of sense.

Since the remembrance of past times had evidently done more to keep people apart than to bring them together, it is not surprising that cosmopolitan philosophers had little use for either of the disciplines formerly held in such high esteem, law and theology -- notoriously disputatious professions given to inclusive wrangling about precedents, about the interpretation of historical documents, and about the meaning of the past.

This is enough to remind me of why I wanted to read this in the first place - it moves up to the top of the pile on my reading list.

Now I tag Kevin, Mick, Aaron, Joe and Lindsey.

A Year of Living Biblically

One of the things I did while on retreat this week was finish A.J. Jacobs' book A Year of Living Biblically. I really enjoyed it but thought the publisher had a weird idea of how to categorize it. The book is listed as a humour book but while there are humourous things in it it isn't really a yuk yuk book. Instead it is really a lovely exploration of what happens when you begin to try to shape your life based on a literal reading of the Bible.

Jacobs expects to find that it is impossible to take the Bible literally and he does. Part of what he is doing is motivated by a secular liberal assumption that Biblical fundamentalism is highly problematic and in a way that is what he ends up confirming. But what seems to surprise him is that in the process of trying to observe the commandments he finds himself changing. He finds himself becoming more thankful and less angry. He begins to feel more connected to people, more generous, more aware of the needs of others. He discovers that by acting like a believer he begins to be a believer.

I remember hearing Tony Campolo say something similar about some students who wanted to work in his project in the Projects. He told them that they had to live like the Christian students and they said no problem. He warned them that they mind be changed by the experience and they laughed it off. By the end of the summer, however, they were Christians. In a way this is confirmation of the AA saying, "fake it 'til you make it." It runs counter to our tendency to think that feeling leads action/belief/commitment.

More images from my retreat at the Martha Retreat Centre

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Internet friendships

Peter Leclaire, vp academic.
Our final lecture in the friendship series took place last night and it was a big success. Peter Leclaire, the VP Academic, came from the college to introduce Marko Hilgersom who is a very popular teacher at the college. He's receiving a NISOD Excellence in Learning Leadership Award this spring (I think learning leadership is some new way of saying 'teaching'). He teaches all sorts of culture/film/religion courses at the college and is developing a new course on narrative. And he's my neighbour.

Marko brought clickers along to allow him to poll the audience (about 50 people ranging in age from 15-70+) which was a lot of fun. For the first half of his talk he mostly polled us about our attitudes towards friendship, how many friends we had, what qualities we most valued in friendship... Then he introduced Aristotle's categories of friendship and related what we had identified to those. And then he talked about the qualities of friendships mediated solely by the internet and asked the question of whether these really counted as friendships. His answer was a qualified yes. He suggested the same qualities can be present in these relationships but they are easier to fake. And he suggested that ultimately true friendship required face to face meeting although we debated that in the discussion afterwards. My counter example was the friendship between Helen and Frank that is described in the book 84 Charing Cross Road - a true story of two people who become significant friends through letters but never meet.

It was a great evening and a really good way to end our series. Now we look forward to the fall when we will do another mini series, this one of religion and fiction.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Barbarians at the Gates

Over at The Journey Home Paul has some interesting comments about the barbarians in our midst. He concludes:

What, I wonder might be the shape of the struggle to come, for us, between civility and barbarism, and what its monument of record, whichever the outcome?

In Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth, Leslie Newbiggin said that we must proclaim the gospel in public conversations in every discipline because in so doing we will be offering hope into a future that will not belong so much to the secularist or pluralists but to the barbarians. According to Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, the barbarians are already among us, creating a society which might more accurately be described as hedonistically consumerist rather than secular but is clearly not at ease with itself and is searching for something more. The reduction of the options to the secular alone - whether in law or elsewhere in our public sphere - will not fully satisfy or please.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yes We Can - Barack Obama

I've liked this guy since I read his first book and this really moved me. Check out the new song version of Obama's speech Yes We Can.

Friendship with people with differing abilities

Bruce MacKay spoke last night on friendship with people with disabilities. He outlined different approaches to defining disability and pointed out that views of disabilty dominant until recently, views which led often to institutionalization of people with disabilities, made friendship difficult.

As an alternative Bruce talked about differing abilities and suggested that we benefit from friendships with people different than ourselves. In part this is based on the realization that we are all mortal and vulnerable to disability ourselves. We are all 'TAB's, temporarily able bodied.

For the last few days I've been struggling with a nasty bug and have felt very mortal. Bruce's approach made an awful lot of sense to me.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What would you do for a friend?

This week's talk by John von Heyking was really interesting and I've been talking with people about it ever since. The main focus of his talk was the issue of the implications for civic friendship of Canada's political culture. He began though by looking at studies of Canadians' views of friendship. One of the questions people were asked was whether they could rely on their friends and a high percentage said that they could. The numbers dropped significantly though when people were asked whether or not they could borrow money from their friends. John's question was does it mean to rely on our friends. Then he asked how many people outside of our immediate families were we willing to die for. At the break we decided probably the more challenging question was how many people were we willing to live for.

Since then I've had a number of conversations with friends about the variations of what it means to live for others from are you willing to take over a casserole if they have a death in their family to would you be willing to take over their personal care if they were sick for six months. Some of the folks I've talked to about this have found this a really uncomfortable topic. I think it raises the fear that maybe we can't count on people in tough times. A couple of people commented that they weren't sure people could always count on their immediate family either in a tough time. I wonder though if it wouldn't be easier for people to live out that vow to their spouse if they had the support of a whole community.

John asked the question of whether or not Canada's political culture encouraged the kind of virtues needed to form these kinds of friendships before turning to the issue of civic friendships. I wondered whether or not the church is a place where these kinds of friendships form. I know we talk a lot about Jesus' example of service and the call to love our neighbours but I think the cultural forces that isolate us and encourage self-obsession are strong and difficult to resist.