31.3.10

Faith and Cruciformity

More stuff from Cruciformity by Gorman

He explores the idea of a cruciform faith (As well as hope, love, and power) in his book, and concludes with these 5 observations (pg. 153; my paraphrases, but mostly quotes):

1. Faith is the renunciation of (or crucifixion of) all other possible basis for justification. Faith means one can only boast in God or the cross.
- How many times do I like to rely on other things to justify myself?

2. Faith is freedom from all powers that enslave humanity, including those about which we might boast about.
- Freedom from pride? Money? Power? The question we always have to ask ourselves if we really want to be free of these things.

3. Faith is conformity to Jesus' faith, his posture to life and obedience and trust before God the Father.

4. Faith is both the initial and ongoing experience of the above, as it begins and maintains our restored covenant relationship with God.
- Ahh the ongoing element of faith; often problematic to reformation thought (though not the good thinkers :)

5. Faith is costly.
- Hello Bonhoeffer

Yellow Blue Tibia


Adam Roberts, Yellow Blue Tibia: Konstantin Skvorecky's memoir of the alien invasion of 1986. London: Gollancz, 2009. 326 pgs.

Adam Roberts writes strange and interesting books. I have read his work before, and enjoyed it. So, when I saw this on the shelf in the public library, I picked it up. And I am very glad I did. This book joins a very elite club, becoming the 3rd book that has ever made me laugh out loud while reading it. The first was the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide series. The second was Stephen Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. This is the third.

Normally, when I am reading, all of my emotional reactions stay pretty contained. After all, reading is largely an exercise in imagination, and so the process is almost wholly internal to begin with. Negatively, only one book has ever shocked me enough to extract a gasp (Iain M. Banks! so good...). Otherwise, the 'best' negative result that usually comes about is that I put the book down and never read it again. Positively, I may grin, or pause for thought. Laughing is rare.

So, on to the book. As I said, Roberts pens unique and engaging tales, and this book is no different. We begin with a group of Russian science fiction writers who are tasked by Stalin to create a plausible, and fake-able, alien threat which Stalin will be able to use, once he has defeated the Americans, to unite the Russian people (and maybe the people of the whole world!). The project is quickly shut down, and all involved are told to forget everything. Not, however, before they come up with a narrative involving radiation aliens (no visibility necessary) who can possess people (easy to have actors do the job) and who begin their invasion with two key events: the destruction of an American space shuttle on takeoff, and a nuclear attack on the Ukraine.... Sound familiar? Do the words "Challenger" and "Chernobyl" ring any bells?

Fast forward to the 80's, and the story that these men wrote for Stalin 30 years before seems to be coming true. But there is only one man of that writing crew left, and no one else should know about it... Thus begins a tale rife with unexpected twists, irony and sarcasm, and weird (but good) science-fictiony type stuff.

I enjoyed this book immensely. One thing that Roberts was able to do which impressed me greatly was to write a convincingly brain damaged main character. To take a well established character and, through the narrative, alter his personality by brain damage, and then write the new character in such a way that the sudden change, as well as the main continuity, in his person are both convincing, subtle, and thorough is, to me, incredibly impressive.

Unfortunately, one other character also suffers brain damage and undergoes personality shifts. However, he loses some of his control and ends up with the equivalent of coprolalia. This is unfortunate because I do not particular enjoy reading that many swears... it detracts from my ability to experience the narrative. I find excessive swearing jarring, pointless, and in bad taste. What made it worse and better at the same time was that this occurred very near the end of the book. Had it been near the beginning, there is a good chance I would have stopped reading and never finished the book (ever try reading Richard Morgan? Well, don't; at least, not if this kind of thing bothers you). As it was, my desire to find out the end of the story pushed me through.

Overall, amazing book. If you read it, be prepared for a rough ending, not just in terms of the sudden swearing, but also in terms of the ending itself. I'll just say that things get... complicated. I guess aliens tend to do that though :)

Windows on the Cross


What did Christ accomplish on the cross? What did he do and how did he do? These are the questions atonement theology addresses. The most basic answer typically given in my own context is that He 'died for our sins.' Nothing wrong with that. But we can say more; much more in fact.

I am currently reading Cruciformity by Gorman. I am not finished yet, but he lists 13 windows on the cross, and I wanted to share them here. So, what follows is Gorman's list, taken from pages 82-85, with my own paraphrased brief explanations of what he means by them. These 13 windows do not contradict one another, and they can be taken together to create a full picture of Jesus' work on the cross. The point is that we usually emphasize one or two of this while forgetting about the rest.

1. Obedience/Righteousness/Faith(fulness): When Christ died he was following the will of God. Clearly presented in: Phil. 2:8; Romans 5:18-19; Gal. 1:4. Ambiguously present (due to Greek grammatical uncertainty) in: Romans 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16, 2:20, 3:22; Phil. 3:9.

2. Love: Christ died as a demonstration of God's love. Gal. 2:20; Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 5:14.

3. Grace: Christ's death is unmerited by those it benefits (us) and generous. 2 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 5:15, 5:6-10.

4. Sacrifice: This is a commonly expressed explanation, that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin. 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; Rom. 3:25, 4:25, 5:9, 8:3.

5. Altruism/Substitution: Another commonly used theme. Christ died in place of people, for them, taking on their sin/punishment as a substitute. It is important to have both halves here; Christ died for people, not only for their sins. 1 Thess. 5:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Cor. 8:11; Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:6, 5:8.

6. Self-giving/giving: Christ's death was his surrendering of his self and a gift from God. Gal. 1:4, 2:20; Phil. 2:7-8; Rom. 8:3, 8:32, 4:25.

7. Voluntary self-humbling/abasement: Christ's death was an act of humility, or a descent in status. Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 15:3.

8. Culmination of a story that includes incarnation and suffering: The cross is often presented as a high point in the story, but perhaps not the climax (that is the resurrection; see point 13). Still, the cross represents the path Jesus walked. Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 8:9.

9. Paradoxical power and wisdom: Pretty obvious; the cross doesn't make sense to an outsider looking in. Why worship a man who suffered and died? Crucifixion = failure. and so on. 1 Cor. 1:24-25; 2 Cor. 13:4.

10. Interchange: Christ's death effects an exchange of our sin for his righteousness, his wealth for our poverty. 2 Cor. 8:9, 5:21.

11. Apocalyptic victory and liberation for new life and transformation: That's a mouthful, eh? This is the Christus Victory theme, but by another, longer, and more explanatory name. In Christ's death he has defeated the reigning powers of this world and thus freed us from their tyranny and inaugurated the new age of the kingdom of God wherein we look forward to the full coming of the new heaven and new earth and are transformed in anticipation of that day. Gal 1:4; Rom. 6:6, 9-10; 14:9; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Thess. 5:9-10.

12. Reconciliation and Justification: Another common theme. Through Christ's death we are reconciled with God and justified in His presence. Gal. 2:15-16; Rom. 3:22, 4:25, 5:18-19.

13. Prelude to resurrection/exaltation: The conclusion of the story is the resurrection, thus the crucifixion leads up to it. Death and resurrection joined at the seam by the story of Jesus. 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 1:4; 4:25; Gal. 1:1; Rom. 6:4,9; 8:17.; Phil. 2:9-11; Gal. 2:20.


What an amazing thing Jesus did! As exhaustive (exhausting?) as this list is, I doubt that even it fully explores all possible windows on the cross.


Up Late

Don't you just hate it when you can't sleep? Or, when you do fall asleep, but get completely woken up so shortly afterwards that you feel like you just had a nap and are ready to go?

Yeah, so its 12:20, and I should be in bed. The women of the house are sleeping away, and I am jealous.

So, what do I do with time like this? Check email, facebook, post on here and comment... then I play silly games, like this or this.

I try to read, but usually I don't have the focus at this time of night unless I force myself to be really awake, and eat something, but then I won't be asleep for hours. So, I find things to do that wile away the time while my body and brain slowly shut down so I can go back to bed.

Of course, computer screens are supposed to be bad for this process, as the light shining from them directly into your eyes tricks your brain into thinking its more like daytime, so maybe I will just go lay down and listen to music.

Night.

30.3.10

After You Believe


N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperOne, 2010. 307 pgs.

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright. I don't think there is anyone I ever agree with completely (being in school for so long has taught me that if I ever found such a person, or read such a book, I would either have been insufficiently critical during my reading process, or else I am reading something I myself wrote :) but, that said, I have found very few scholars who can match Wright's coherence in presenting an overall biblical picture, or who are as compelling as he is in the details of their biblical analysis.

Those, of course, are general comments. What about this book? After You Believe is, apparently, the third book in an unannounced, but now completed, trilogy written by Wright. It began with Simply Christian, continued in Suprised by Hope, and is completed in this volume. In itself, this book is an argument for, and outline of, the idea of Christian character and virtue, as well as why and how we should strive for them. Wright begins by asking the question, which has vexed many believers, "What do I do after I believe?" or, in other words, "What am I here for?" His answer is that we are here to become what God has created us to be, Priests and Rulers in God's kingdom. As we do this we reflect more and more of God's glory, which is also part of our purpose on earth. Having laid out his answer, Wright takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of biblical support for his ideas and then, in chapters 5-8 outlines how we get there, while continuing to fill in his initial picture.

According to Wright, on page 29, Character is transformed by 3 things: Aiming at the right goal, figuring out the steps to get there, and making those steps into habits. This is the general path which Wright goes on to fill with Christian specifics. As he does so, Wright, I think, feels forced to continually defend against the accusation that he has done away with Grace and created a new kind of "work's righteousness." I don't think I can blame him for this; he's probably right in that people will, and have, accused him of just these things. What I found much more helpful was his contrasting of the path of virtue/character with the paths of romanticism, existentialism, and emotivism. These three movements, Wright correctly points out, have a lot to do with the more common ways of thinking these days. The first, romanticism, stresses the importance of inner feelings and spontaneity, freedom as opposed to imposed systems and constraints. The second stresses the notion of authenticity, and being true to one's self. The third is all about the reduction of morality to emotions; 'murder is wrong' becomes 'I don't like murder.' And all of them are fatally flawed.

As opposed to these, the path of virtue/character stresses becoming who Christ has called us to be. Growing in the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love, and the fruit of the Spirit through renewing our minds (in this case, thinking through our aims and how to get there, though not limited to this), and building the right habits into our persons. Also, Wright lays out how it is that the church and its practices and structures are already in place to help us through this process.

Overall, I think that this book is right on the mark in terms of its ideas and point. Wright is, as usual, a lucid and compelling writer. To some, his explorations of biblical texts may seem long, but I found them rich and interesting. My only criticism, and I suppose it is an inevitable fact in books such as this, is that most of what Wright has to say has been written before. Personally, I am thinking specifically of the work of Dallas Willard, whose books The Divine Conspiracy and, even more, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, not only make some of the same points as Wright, but use some of the same analogies. With Wright we have a more clearly presented case than with Willard, updated examples taken from modern day life (since it is a newer book), and some unique interpretations of specific biblical texts. As well, Wright frames the entire project within the future image of being rulers and Priests with Christ in the kingdom of God. That last part, however, makes a big difference. Thanks to that addition, what Wright is urging his readers to do in following this path fits very neatly into his entire picture of Christianity, the Bible, Christian life, and the Christian future (hence the trilogy this book completes).

I recommend the book though, and think any thoughtful Christian reader would enjoy it and get a lot out of it.

Cassandra's Questions

How does love trigger the disintegration of the loved one?

How do efforts to control another become an adaptation to the other's weakness?

Why does dependency kill?

How does rigidity in one person create self-doubt in another?

Why is it the nature of craziness to drive those who try to understand it in others crazy?

How does support weaken? or challenge become a form of caring?

When does responsibility for others become irresponsible?

How do words lose their power then they are used to overpower?
- Friedman's Fables, pg. 107-108

The book had one good part, despite my review. So, what do you think? How would you answer those questions?

26.3.10

Graduation Thoughts (#5): Friends and Good Times

Still more to say. Kristina pointed out that I write about my time at Regent different than I talk about it. And she's write. When I talk, I am usually giving short, one or two sentence answers to easy questions. I am not reflecting, trying to mull it over and give a fuller presentation. Still, she also pointed out that I haven't really talked about friends and good times yet, which are things that come up in conversation.

When she pointed this out, I realized not only that she was right, but that I have compartmentalized my experience at Regent. I no longer think of the friends I made at Regent as part of Regent; they are just friends, who I hope to continue being friends with for a long time. Still, I met them there, so I might as well put them in here :)

One of the well organized good ideas that Regent tries to foist upon all new and married students is something called the 'Regent Spouses Network.' This is a way for spouses of Regent students to be involved in the community despite not taking courses (or as many courses) as their other halves. Kristina signed up for this, and it turned out great. She got into a group with some wonderful women, and it just so happened (or God just so planned it :) that all of the husbands of the women in that group somehow got to know each other at school and become friends. So, every two weeks for several years all the women would get together at somebodies house, and all the men would get together somewhere else (another house, or a pub, or something like that).
Now those were good times. We had a lot of fun together. 8 cent wings during the world cup, lots of good conversations, good beer, some games. And we have all been in very similar places in life. At this point, I am pretty sure we all have children, some very close together, others a year or two apart (which is still pretty close). Sadly, many of the group have moved away. Regent does, after all, attract 2/3rd's or more of its student body from abroad, which means most people head off eventually. Still, distance doesn't kill friendships with the technology we take for granted :) And some of us are still around.

Other good times: I also got to know several prof's quite well, and that was a huge blessing. On top of that, Regent puts on a lot of good events. The retreat in the fall we went to in my first year, guest speakers of high quality (I think my favorite was listening to, and then meeting and chatting with, Miroslav Volf), and some ridiculously good seminar courses (Atonement with J.I. Packer; now there is a course).


25.3.10

Graduation Thoughts (#4): Lessons Learned

Reflecting continues.

One of the things I realized as I was writing the last post, but decided deserved a post all its own, was that over my life there have been three key lessons I have learned that have affected my personality, decisions, and life in big ways. Its not that other things haven't had an affect, or changed me; of course they have. These three particular lessons, however, stand out for some reason. Realizing this, and thinking about it because of graduation, I thought I would share them.


Lesson #1: Remember the good, forget the bad.

I don't remember how old I was, I don't remember what we were fighting about, but my brother and I, as is typical of brothers I think, were fighting about something. My Mom, as is typical of mothers, caught us, stopped us, and tried to figure out what was going on. As reasons for our fight we brought up stuff that the other had done weeks or months before. Now, I know thats all rather vague, but I don't remember any details, so I am sorry. What I do remember, clear as day, was my Mom's response to us. She said "You are going to grow up to be pretty bitter people if you keep remember all the bad stuff people do so long ago."

Well, I didn't want to grow up to be bitter, so I decided to try to focus on the good and not the bad. I am not always successful, as I'm sure those close to me can tell you, but its an aim in life. It has helped me to forgive and to show grace and compassion. As difficult as it can be, I know its the right way to go.


Lesson #2: Learn how you learn best.

Back when I was in elementary school, I had an amazing principal, who I saw a lot of because I was in the 'gifted' class, which she taught. As I was approaching my graduation from elementary, in grade 7, I remember her talking to me about preparing for university (yes, I know, very early for that!). She told me that I needed to know how to learn, to figure out how I learned and get better at it. She talked about how lots of high school programs don't teach students how to learn, but merely get them to memorize and recite, and how that doesn't prepare a person for university at all. I think she recommended I look into things like IB programs, once I was old enough (though I am unclear about that part). In any case, her talk about learning how to learn stuck. I realized she was right. Schools don't usually teach students how to learn; it is almost assumed that all students have that skill already or, if they don't, that it will somehow come naturally over the years of schooling. I think that most of the time that is nonsense.

So I did try to learn how I learn, and I think I figured it out pretty well (though it took some time). There were lots of little tricks I learned. Like the fact that normally I can only read or write serious material for about an 45-60 minutes before I need a break, but, at the same time, that I had to be disciplined about my breaks and that sometimes I could get 'in the zone' and go for much longer. I learned that certain activities were aided by minor distractions, like the right kind of music (usually something in another language, so I can't understand it, but its still faster than the normal acoustic mix). I found out that I need to do most things twice; once to get a general overview, and once more to get all the details, and so I had to plan my study time to fit that in. This especially applied in reading, though other areas as well (and it took me a long time to apply this to my writing, but I did and it helped). I learned that I needed to lay out my schedule of assignments, so that I could feel the stress of needing to get things done. The right level of stress is key to overcoming my natural bent to procrastination, but ignorance prevents me from maintaining that level of stress when I need it, so scheduling helps overcome that ignorance and create stress (and I know that sounds odd, but note that I said the right level of stress; determining where that level is is one key as well). I learned that my best writing comes out of a lot of reading, combined with time to mull things over, and so I have to start working on my essays a month or more in advance if possible. I could go on; I learned a lot about myself, and all because I decided to be conscious of, and conscientious towards, my own learning processes.


Lesson #3: Live Now.

This is the one I explained in my last post. Life is uncertain: "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14

As much as we do not like to face up to this fact, it is a reality. If your not living your best, giving your all, offering yourself as a living sacrifice to Christ and having your mind renewed right now, if you are waiting until later to do what is right and good, then something is wrong.



Anyway, some defining moments for me. Graduation makes you think, thats for sure.


Graduation Thoughts (#3): Evaluate?

So, comparing is done. Reflecting on my time at Regent, one of the things I want to ask is what did I learn? How well did my time there prepare me? and so on; evaluative questions.

The immediate problem is that I learned far too much to put in a blog post; after all, it took over 3 years of schooling to get it into me :)

A more central problem, however, is that one of the first, and maybe most important, things I learned at Regent was that I shouldn't treat it as merely preparation for something else. I didn't learn this in a class, and no prof told me this in so many words. But, at some point near the beginning of my time at Regent the inevitable question came up (I think from someone who subsequently left Regent because they answered the question differently): If you knew you were going to die in 1 year, would you still spend it in school?

Of course, we don't know when we are going to die, and the real point of the question is to seek the value of your current activities. Famously, Martin Luther said that even if he knew the world would fall to pieces tomorrow, he would still plant a tree today. One trap to fall into is to change how we judge whether or not an activity is good/worthwhile in view of a shorter time frame. So, many people would never plant that tree with Luther. But, if planting a tree is a good thing to do, it shouldn't matter what will eventually happen; we can't control the future anyway. The opposite trap to fall into, however, is to assume we have many days left and so treat much of our life as merely preparation for something else to come. If we can't live now, when will we ever arrive to the place where do live now?

Regent was a place to prepare, and in reflecting, I see that the closer I got to the finish the less I treated Regent and school as a place to be now, and the more I treated it as preparation (especially this last year as I have already been working). But, I also strove to treat it as a place which was good on its own, regardless of what came later. And, uncomfortably, evaluating that has much less to do with the Regent as a school and much more to do with what I did with the opportunities it presented.

So, I offer a few observations/evaluations.

Every school, every program, every degree has faults. Regent is no different, and so I am not going to dwell on critiques. Most failings of such places can easily be overcome by the individuals studying there. I know they have done their best with what they have, and I think they have done a very very good job of it. The world of thought a student is introduced to at Regent is incredibly vast. The prof's are excellent, and open to building into students lives. I only wish the tuition were lower (a common feeling among students worldwide I suspect :).

As preparation, for ministry or academics, Regent is a place which provides many open doors. It is up to the students to push through them, and that is as it should be. No, every eventuality is not planned for; how could they? But, good people and good books provided in relationships and as resources go a long ways in those areas.

Personally, Regent was just what I needed. Its not for everyone; but God led me there for a reason, and I am grateful.

Friedman's Fables


Edwin H. Freidman, Friedman's Fables. New York: The Guilford Pres, 1990. 213 pgs

Yet another book I have mentioned before. In that post I linked to several stories which I was able to find online before actually getting the book from the library. They all happened to be stories I enjoyed... sadly, I cannot say the same of the entire book.

This book, as the title suggests, is a collection of fables. Fables, in this case, being short stories with a lesson. Friedman divides them into sections, with a brief introduction for each section and 6 stories in each of the 4 sections of the book. The points he tries to make in these stories are, naturally, the same one's he spells out in much more detail in his other books.

Sadly, both his writing and his lessons suffer as a result of the poor quality of many of the stories. In some of his stories, the point he is trying to make so overrides the narrative as to make the story boring or just bad. At other times, the point is so obscure and difficult that when I finished the story I wondered what in the world I had just read.

Still, about 1 in ever 4 stories was very good, and quite worth reading. I particularly enjoyed the story of Cinderella told from the perspective of the mother-in-law, as well as the story of the boy whose nerves grew outside of his body.

Overall though, sad day. Easy, light reading, but if you pick up this book feel free to quickly skip over the stories which seem poor; they are. As well, if you want to learn what Friedman has to say, you are better off reading his other books.

As a final note, I always wonder about reviewing books like this; ones I don't enjoy and don't recommend (at least overall). What's the point? I guess so you can avoid this book? On the other hand, at least for now, I am going to put all the books I read up here... we will see how that goes.


22.3.10

Quotes of the Day #4

Rules matter, but they aren't the center of it all. You can tell people that they must obey the rule to be generous. But if someone gives you a present merely because he is obeying a rule or doing his duty, the glory of gift-giving has slipped through your fingers. If rules are taken as the main thing, then the truly main thing seems to be missing. What happened to character?
N.T. Wright, After You Believe, (SanFrancisco: HarperOne Publishing, 2010) 47.

Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.
Wesley, The Princess Bride

21.3.10

Change of Heart


Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart. Hodder & Stoughton, 2008. 461pgs

Not my usual fair. I admit it, I can be shallow. When I am choosing what to read I have to know something about the author or the book to get me past a bad cover. If I am just looking for new books, I won't even pick it up if it has a hoaky or girly cover. And look at that cover? I mean, come on :) If that wasn't bad enough, this is the description of the author on the back: "Jodi Picoult is the UK's number one bestselling women's fiction author." Women's Fiction? Clearly this is a marketing tool. Having now read the book, I don't think they would have trouble marketing it as just a book if they so choose... but they didn't. Picoult writes "women's fiction." Personally, I would be curious how one defines that exactly. Fiction written by a women? Fiction with female characters in it? Fiction with a book study guide at the back? Fiction with an element of romance in it? What?

Ok, rant aside, on to the book itself. I read this book at the recommendation of a friend, who also lent me the book (which is what I knew that got me past both the cover and the author's description). And I enjoyed it. Let me stress that again: I enjoyed it. Why am I stressing that? Because this book was literally a three-alarm fire. When I read a fiction book, I normally just read to enjoy. I am not trying to pick it apart, or critique it, I just want some good, relaxing fun. However, as I do that, there are certain things that set off alarms in my head, and when that happens it changes how I read the book. Suddenly, I am critical and focused, and ready to take it apart. Now, a book that sets off one alarm can be anywhere from poor to excellent; the alarm might be false, or it might not be that big of a deal, or I might be feeling gracious. Two alarms and your getting onto shaky ground. Three alarms... well, lets just say its a rare book that sets off three alarms and still finish, let alone enjoy. I start by emphasizing that because in order to review this book I need to go through those three alarms, and its going to sound pretty negative. Instead of giving you the wrong impression, I'm telling you the ending of the story first: I enjoyed the book. Oh, and this may be a long review (hope its worth it Keri; you might be the only one who reads this :)

Alarm #1 Plot Copying, or un-originality. Obviously, its not going to get published if its straight out plagiarism, but authors can be astonishingly lacking in creativity at times, and plot copying is a big sign. By page 100, I was wondering. I mean, mentally challenged individual involved in double homicide is sentenced to death row and while in prison begins to perform miracles (including healing people, small animals, and removing evil)? The Green Mile much? Now, let me hasten to add that I think this turned out to be a false alarm. While there is definite overlap, Picoult takes the premise in an entirely new direction. The tension is not located in anywhere near the same place in these two stories, and they develop extremely differently.

Alarm #2 "Pulling on my heart strings." There comes a time in some books when the reader has been made to feel a certain way one too many times. Every character is introduced by their flaws, their depression, their sadness, etc. Every character speaks with the same voice in the midst of a different tragedy. How many times do I need to hear that Maggie thinks she's fat and has a bad relationship with her mother? This alarm, while not completely valid, turned out to have more substance. Picoult's characters do tend to 'pull at your heart strings' more than is strictly necessary. However, Picoult redeems this fact by making sure that all of those strings end somewhere. That is, they end up being carried through to some kind of conclusion or resolution (good or bad). This is quite an accomplishment, and sets her squarely on the side of authors who do this well. She is touching the readers heart sincerely, and in a way that invites exploration. On the other hand, quite a few of her characters are little more than mouth pieces for ideas. Some are extremely believable (like Maggie), others (like Michael) I found very unrealistic. But, the key, in terms of this alarm, is that the tragic beginnings had a purpose other than to emotionally manipulate the reader (or as sleight of hand for some other lack). Instead, they fit into the story.

Alarm #3 "Let me tell you about early Christianity..." This is probably an alarm very specific to myself, but I can't help it. I spent 4 years in religious studies and then 3 in seminary, and its an area of interest for me. While I am no PhD, I do consider myself somewhat educated on this subject, and so whenever an author touches on it then it perks my interest, and it makes me cautious. Two concerns pop into my head immediately: one factual, one pastoral.

The first is that once a subject I understand well is introduced, I want to compare my own understanding to the authors, and both to the facts I know. So often, when reading popular fiction, I find that authors have chosen a popular book on the subject and based their entire premise/story/whatever on that one perspective (or even a couple of popular level perspectives). Its good enough for a novel, but its not good research, and it is usually very slanted.

The second part of my concern stems directly from this first. Many people, upon reading such novels, will feel that they have learned something, or been provided with the fruits of good research. How do I know this? I fall for it myself. I already mentioned it when I reviewed Crichton's book; I finished that book and felt I had learned something about Caribbean pirates. I know enough about research and such that I think, or like to think, that if I ever seriously needed to know something about pirates, I would do real research. More importantly, knowledge about pirates is not something that will likely ever change my life. When I come to this book however, that is no longer true, because this book is providing 'knowledge' about Christianity and the bible. Someone's knowledge of Christianity, and the New Testament, and its formation, etc. might very well change their life. I believe the bible can, and does, regularly change people who encounter it with even slightly open hearts and minds. Thus, there is even more reason to take this kind of writing very seriously. And more often than not, I find such authors, writing on such a subject, provide just enough information, and with just the right twists, to inoculate the reader with Christianity.

For this third alarm, I found Picoult did better than most, but still not well. She certainly isn't writing another Davinci Code. The position which is implicit, and sometimes explicit, in her book is, at least, a position that mostly aligns with what some serious scholars would support. Her presentation of alternative gospels is fairly accurate. However, her presentation of how they are, and were, evaluated, and, most especially, of gnosticism, leave a lot to be desired. Gnosticism, in her book, becomes a 2000 year old example of seeking individual expression, of taking responsibility for your own beliefs against the masses, of a universal type religion in a pluralistic world which is unable to stand up to the 'establishment'. It is pictured far to much as a predecessor of what we often see expressed in what is called 'post-modernism.' It's rather convenient, written to be attractive to her readers, and highly inaccurate. I also found most of her interactions with faith and religion to either be unrealistic or of just the sort of depth required to convince readers of any stripe that she is writing through their own eyes.

In the end, 1 alarm turned out to be accurate, and 1 pointed me to what I consider some minor flaws in her character writing (but compared to many writers, even here she stands above the crowd).

So, what did I enjoy about the book? Picoult is an excellent writer, and as much as I disagreed with parts of her book, it did get me thinking, which is always a plus. Its a good story, with above average characters, some good twists, and it does draw the reader in.

Would I recommend this book? Depends on to whom. Not unequivocally, but that hesitation stems from my own opinions on issues surrounding the church, Christianity, the New Testament, etc. It does not stem from any doubts about her skill as a writer. I realize that this is not the point of the book; its not a theology text, or a Sunday School manual. Nonetheless, a large portion of the plot and story revolve around the religious issues (as Bourne quotes from the Gospel of Thomas, and the priest struggles with his faith, and the reader wonders if Picoult is setting up Bourne as Jesus returned, and the testimony in the court centers on religion and gnosticism, etc.). Due to this, I think it is fair to judge Picoult on this issues, as well as on her writing.

Would I read another one of her books? Yes, but not right away (mostly because I now have a bunch of library books to read :).

Graduation Thoughts (#2?): Compare and Contrast

Apparently my last post on this topic gave some people the impression that my time at Regent was terrible or something. That is not what I meant to convey.

Rather, I was thinking about my time at regent, and my upcoming graduation, in comparison with my other graduation experiences. In High School I spent every day for 3 years with most of the same people. Upon coming to the end, I was with that same group, and we were all transition in the same way. We were moving on to the next step of our lives, looking forward to what was coming, feeling fear, trepidation, excitement, joy, etc. all together. In my undergrad at UofA I had spent four years living in a different city, in both residence and a home with a bunch of friends, and while not all of us finished at the same time, it was still a very close knit community to be leaving, and it was still a point at which many of us transitioned in the same way together. We were moving on to the next step of our lives, looking forward to what was coming, feeling fear, trepidation, excitement, joy, etc. all together.

Now, I have come to the end of my Regent degree, and most of that is not true anymore. Yes, I did develop some very close friends at Regent. And I had a lot of good times. But I don't honestly know if I will know anyone who is walking across the stage with me; I imagine there will be people I recognize, but beyond that....? I am also not moving on to the next step of my life; I already did that, several times in the last year.

So it feels different; very different. Am I excited? Definitely. Was my time at Regent well spent? No question. Is graduating a big deal to me? YES! I am so glad to have had the amazing opportunities I have had, met the people I did, spent time learning all that I have learnt, and more. Looking back, it was an amazing time, but my reasons for saying that are very different than my reasons for saying the same thing at the end of high school and my undergrad.

Well, here I am at the end of yet another post on this topic, and I feel like there's lots more to say. I'll get there, I just hope that whoever is reading this don't mind me taking so long.

Does God Suffer?


Thomas G. Weinandy, Does God Suffer. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000. 310pgs

This isn't the first time I have mentioned this book, but I just finished it today. As I have mentioned before, it is a topic of some interest to me. Depending on your particular bent or training, the question may seem easy to answer in the positive or negative. From a philosophical point of view, God is impassible, and so of course he doesn't suffer. From a gospel story point of view, the natural reply is "What about Jesus, the Son of God, one member of the Holy Trinity, suffering and dying on the cross?"

Indeed, and such is the dilemma. Of course, it is only compounded by our 20th century focus on Empathy (I just recently found out that this word first entered the English language in 1919! Different book though) and our desire to have a God who shares our suffering, with the nearly assumed correlative position that if God does not suffer with us, then he cannot love us.

These are exactly the kinds of questions Weinandy explores in this book. He begins by stating and explaining the position of those who answer "Yes." He then goes on to explain his method, his view of God, patristic theology, and how impassibility is understood in light of creation, love, incarnation, and redemption. Finally, he adds a chapter on how Christ's work changes the nature of our own suffering. The short version of his argument is that God does not suffer, and in not suffering God is more loving, not less. As well, it is only in His impassibility that he redeems or becomes incarnate. The full details of those arguments actually do require an entire book to explain, so I won't try to sum them up any more than that.

I will say, however, that Weinandy is an excellent writer with a very strong argument. He is able to do several things which most authors who touch on this subject have proven unable to accomplish. To begin with, he clearly and fairly explains both sides of the argument. You might not know how rare that is, but trust me. Most authors who argue for God's passibility express, at best, bafflement at how anyone who claims to have a coherent theology can hold that God is both loving and impassible. Meanwhile, those who argue for God's impassibility usually portray the other side as a bunch of heretics who are making God in man's image. Individuals who do represent their opponents well are almost always better scholars and more powerful debaters.

On top of that fact, Weinandy is also able to coherently explain the church father's positions on these issues (including his own critiques and extensions and so on). Again, you may not know how rare this is, but trust me. Reading material on these topics, one quickly begins to feel that the church fathers can be made to dance to whatever tune happens to be playing, or, at very least, made to look like fools for allowing themselves to be infected with Greek philosophy when Christianity is so clearly Jewish... yeah, I won't go into that.

Overall, this book is not an easy read. It is thorough and philosophical and interesting and powerful, but neither easy nor simple. Read it if your interested in the subject; otherwise you will have no motivation at all to wade through 300+ pages of this kind of writing.

As for me, I have changed my position on these issues. I used to accept the position that God does suffer. I have never thought God changes his character, or anything like that, but it seemed plain to me that for God to love he must suffer, if Christ is God he must suffer, and that impassibility was tied to a static definition of perfection which was dry and clearly not presented in scripture. Now I see that for God to love fully, perfectly, for Him to be love, He must not suffer (grieve yes; and the distinction between those two is very interesting in and of itself); if Christ is God then Christ suffered as a man, not as God; and impassibility does not need to be tied to a static definition of perfection, but in fact is more accurately tied to the dynamic picture we find in scripture.

19.3.10

Graduation Thoughts (#1?): Outlining my time at Regent

I predicted that I would have more to say about graduation, and I do. I don't know how much more, hence the question in the title.

I just got an email today from Regent college inviting me to a free workshop they offer to help people deal with leaving regent. I was surprised, and commented to Tom that sometimes Regent is a little bit to touchy-feely for me. But, I also realized that my Regent experience has been different than what is considered the 'norm' (at least by the college itself). I have always lived off campus, and not just a little bit off campus, but waaaaay off campus (maple ridge, surrey, and coquitlam). So, I have never been able to base my life, in any way other than scheduling courses, around Regent events or community. For the same reason, I have always incorporated distance education into my Regent degree; less travel, easier to schedule. And if that wasn't disconnected enough, I took a year off in the middle of my degree, meaning that the vast majority of people I knew well at Regent graduated while I was half a world away.

The end result? Experiencing my MDiv degree has been a wildly varied thing. In my first year, I was the typical excited beginner, eager and willing, though with the difficulty of distance. I was a full time student, and that was it; no job, no children, just a wonderful wife (who also worked at the time) and groups of friends and family. Regent was new and shiny and wonderful (and I do still think it is that last one, though when I actually get to 'evaluating' my experience I will qualify myself).

In my second year I took a job as a TA. This was my most 'connected' year, and also my busiest. I took several of my hardest courses during this year (like hermeneutics), and for the first time in my life I started having afternoon naps in bean bag chairs hidden in the dark corners of the old library (my Tuesday's were crazy; if I didn't have that nap, I don't know what I would have done. That library no longer exists, and the new one has no dark corners. It still has bean bag chairs though, and I am happy to say I still see people sleeping in them from time to time) . I knew more people and felt myself to be much more a part of Regent. I got to know several professors, TAing under Paul Williams (whom I learned much from, but most of all I appreciated the lessons on how to properly drink/have tea) as well as doing a guided study course with Craig Gay (the topic: postmodernity. Great course; Craig introduced me to the writings of George Steiner who, in his work "Real Presences," points out what I believe to be the only real major shift, or disconnect, between what we call modernity and postmodernity. Craig also did guide me through this course, helping me not only to understand the issues better, but also he helped me to learn why the topics had seemed important to me but actually weren't. Thanks to both of you :).

Then we ran out of money, and went back to Korea for a year (good times!). When I came back to Regent, there was hardly any connection. My 3rd year was just about getting done and moving on. At the same time, I did my internship at Coquitlam Alliance, which meant I was much more connected to a church community, and that was a very helpful thing (most especially developing a relationship with my mentor/supervisor David Wood).

Now I have spent the last 6 months finishing my last two courses on Audio, while working full time, and while raising our first child, Hannah. These last two courses have, more even than my third year, been all about getting it done. And I am.

So, thats the outline of my experience... I guess there will be a post #2, at the very least, because I am out of time, and still have stuff to say.

18.3.10

Faith At Home

On Tuesday all of the staff of BAC went to a "Faith At Home" conference. I was one of the people who pushed for us to go to this conference. Upon seeing the short video where Mark Holmen outlines what the focus is, as well as their advertising which focuses on the alarming rate at which university students are leaving the church (an issue over which I am also concerned), I thought it promised some discussions and ideas we could really benefit from. (things like ministry silos, and moving the practice of Christianity outside of the church building)

So, we went. And as I sat through the first session, led by someone from Focus on the Family, I couldn't help thinking: "What have I gotten myself into?" And I do not mean that in a good way. We were told all about how central the family is, and how if we aren't doing family ministry then we aren't really doing any good, and so on. The speaker went on to layout these facts: Jesus has promised, in Matthew 16:18, that the gates of hades, or hell, will not overcome the church. God has laid out his plan, purpose, and promise for the church. But, he went on to add, when we turn to the family we don't have the promise. God lays out his plan and purpose, but makes no guarantees. So far, so good. The conclusion though: Satan is attacking the families, and our churches are based on our families, so rally around, protect, and focus on the family. Meanwhile, I am sitting there thinking, if the church holds a promise and family does not, shouldn't we build on the church? Maybe flip the relationship, and have families change? And what about the fact that while 'one man one woman united in marriage' is biblical, beyond that there is no specific family model laid out for us? Focus on the early twenty-first century western nuclear family?

So, I left the first session dismayed and wondering. However, by half way through the second session, presented by Mark Holmen, I was right on board. What had changed? Why did the first presentation strike me so negatively, and the second so positively? Mark, the speaker, said it: Language matters. He was going through the keys to doing a "faith at home" thing in a church, and one of them is that language matters. He added, "I don't care what you call this project (insert examples here), but whatever you do, DO NOT use the word family. No matter how much you clarify, the word family has so many connotations that you will always leave people out with that word." (not an exact quote, but pretty close). Then I got it. Faith at home isn't about focusing on the family. It is about focusing on living out our faith in the rest of our lives outside of the church. The reality is, of course, that the majority of people live in families outside of the church, and so living out our faith outside of the church will mean doing so in two places: In our family and at our workplace (this second was not touched on during the conference).

Mark went on to talk about the different ways you can get different age groups and people in different life situations involved in faith at home; teaching them to pray regularly, read the bible, bless, serve, worship, etc. What he is actually promoting we do is precisely what I had thought initially: Base the family on the church, not the other way around. All of those practices which make us Christian, and which we showcase on Sunday mornings (as well as at church events, like prayer meetings, bible studies, etc.), need to find their way into our homes (whatever our homes look like). Further, he promotes doing this in such a way which takes advantage of the current culturally determined inbuilt systems of our lives. For example: It is simply a fact that mothers and fathers have a larger impact on their children's lives than anyone else (and always will, though the precise degree as opposed to other people's impact, like grandparents, friends, etc. will always depend on the cultural/societal constructs in which we live), so why not accept that fact and work with it?

As much as it sounds like a lot of work, I hope that we can incorporate this into our ministry at BAC. I think it is heading in the right direction; so many of the valid criticisms leveled at the church would become invalid if this was followed through. We are called hypocrites because we live one way on Sunday at church, and another at home. but what if we lived out our faith at home? Christianity is accused of lying because we preach changed lives, but don't exhibit them (same divorce rates and all that). What if we did change? And so on.

Quotes of the Day #3

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Inigo Montoya

"God is unconditionally adaptable in his dynamic and passionate love because his love is immutably and impassibly in act."
Thomas Weinandy

15.3.10

I'm Finished!

I'm finished! Done! It's over!

Today I took a trip to Regent College to hand in the last assignments for the last course of my MDiv program. It's hard to believe, and it feels strange. I've been a student for a ridiculously long time now... going back to grade 1, its been 20 years (and if you add breaks its been 22). Just at regent, I have been a student for nearly 5 years now (with 1 off in the middle). Suddenly, I am no longer a student. And I probably won't be again for some time (though I do still hope to do a PhD one day). Have I lost part of my identity? Is that why I suddenly have this unquenchable urge to read and write? Maybe, but I don't think I want to go there right now. Feels too much like a touchy feely spirituality assignment.

Regardless, its good to be done. I don't walk across the stage until April 26th, but between then and now all I do is wait.

Probably in the next couple of days I will do another, or a few other, posts on this subject. I think it still has to sink in... right now, I just know that one burden has been lifted.

Something New Under the Sun?


Peter S. Beagle, We Never Talk About My Brother. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2009. 219pgs

My leisure reading has been, for a very long time, focused largely on the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. There are some exceptions, naturally, but at least 90%, if not more, falls into this category. As such, I have reached a point, several times now, of despair. I often wonder if I've read all the really good authors and must now settle for passable entertainment at best. My despair rarely grows too deep though; I usually find another good author before too long. In this case, the man who has lifted the fog is Peter S. Beagle. I feel like I've found something new under the sun. Of course, this is not actually the case. The reality is that Beagle has been writing since 1958, and his most famous novel, The Last Unicorn, is on many lists of "top 10 best fantasy books" and the like (and on my short list of fiction to read soon). How I missed him for so long is beyond me, but there you go.

Anyway, this book is a collection of short stories. No common theme, nothing like that, just short stories. Most of them are highly engaging and extremely well written, though the quality does vary from story to story. What stands out the most, in my mind, is the sheer variety of characters that Beagle is able to successfully write to life. I 'felt' (knew? inhabited?) his characters more in 30 pages than I do in some 300 page novels by less talented and less able authors. On top of that, Beagle engages with some fairly deep themes, like forgiveness, guilt, and family struggles, as well as bringing some new ideas to the table. He writes about an angel visiting an aging artist, a newscaster who becomes famous by being able to create disasters through speech, a poem about capturing a unicorn, and much more.

I deeply hope that his novels turn out to be as good, or better, than his short stories, and I look forward to reading more. As for this book, I recommend it to pretty much anyone who likes reading. You don't have to like fantasy to enjoy this; you just have to enjoy a good story.

13.3.10

A Failure of Nerve (in leaders and editors alike)


Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. New York: Seabury Books, 2007. 260pgs

Introduction: I'm pretty sure this isn't a trend, but here is my second book review and it happens to be of another work published posthumously. Friedman was working on this book when he died in 1996. Three years later, it was published privately (what of it there is, including an introduction, epilogue, 5 completed chapters and 3 incomplete chapters. Apparently this is the entire book in outline, but not in the content of each chapter). In 2007 it was published on a larger, public, scale.

Summary: In this book, Friedman argues that the current lack of leadership in America is a symptom of the regressive emotional processes reigning in our culture. To do this, Friedman compares modern day America to Medieval Europe before the renaissance, arguing that despite our technological advances we are in much the same place now as then. The positive assertion which arises from this is that with proper leadership we can move forward. With this in mind, Friedman describes three imagination limiting factors which dominate our world-view: A focus on data rather than decisiveness and maturity (ch. 3), an orientation towards empathy instead of responsibility, with an attendant focus on, and conformity to, weakness rather than strength (ch. 4), and the confusion of self with selfishness (ch. 5). Throughout these chapters, Friedman also introduces and explores new relationship models which help us move past these limiting factors. From these new models, Friedman proposes a new model of leadership (ch. 6), new understandings of emotional processes within organizations (ch. 7), and new ways of looking at, and dealing with, crises and sabotage (ch. 8). His main point is that what we need is leaders who focus on their own self-differentiation and on being able to maintain proper distance within the system he or she is leading.

Negative Criticism: This books largest problems stem from the fact that it was unfinished. It is not so much that I wished the chapters were finished, (though I did wish that, I also know that this is simply a fact of the book). Its more that I wish the editors had had the nerve to do their job despite this fact. The book is riddled with repetitive material, poor organization, and completely lacks in making the obvious references to Friedman's earlier writings. That said, I am not sure I could have done much better. How do you edit a work properly without interaction with the author? Furthermore, Friedman warns the reader in the beginning that the chapters overlap, and that understanding what comes later will aid in reading what is placed first. I suppose one is only left wishing that this were not so true, or that one could grasp the book in its entirety all at once.

Positive Response: That said, the content of the book is highly thought provoking. Friedman's ideas are, without a doubt, revolutionary and, in my opinion, largely correct. For myself, the most stunning part was when he compare the normal leadership 'superstitions' with what he considers more proper guidelines. I have placed this comparison below (from page 194).
1. Leaders influence their followers by the model they establish for identification or emulation.
2. The key to successful leadership is understanding the needs of the their followers.
3. Communication depends on one's choice of words and how one articulates them.
4. Consensus is best achieved by striving for consensus.
5. Stress is due to hard work.
6. Hierarchy is about power.
Before I list the contrasting views, let me just say that I have operated with all of those assumptions. They make perfect sense, don't they? Friedman contrasts them with the following list.

1. A leader's major effect on his or her followers has to do with the way his or her presence (emotional being) affects the emotional processes in the relationship system.
2. A leader's major job is to understand his or her self.
3. Communication depends on emotional variables such as direction, distance, and anxiety.
4. (this is implicit within his writing, though not in this list, and thus not a direct quote, unlike the rest of these points): Consensus is not our goal, raising the maturity level of our followers is the proper goal. Conform to strength not weakness.
5. Stress is due to becoming responsible for the relationships of others.
6. Hierarchy is a natural systems phenomenon rooted in the nature of protoplasm.
Conclusion: This is a must read for anyone in, or interested in, leadership. This is especially true if you have spent much, or any, time reading some of the more popular leadership literature, and even more especially true if that literature has frustrated you. Perhaps the most important group of people who ought to read this are those who have wondered why in the world there is so much of this literature on leadership! I happen to fall into all of those categories. A few caveats though: Be prepared for some slogging, with the repetition and such. Also, be prepared for frustratingly quick endings to the unfinished chapters. There is still a lot in those chapters, but if your like me you won't be able to keep yourself from thinking "what if?"


Through Her Eyes


She is at peace, restful, sleeping.

Her world secure, time is sweet, and all is right with the world. Laying in her cage with padded bars. True, those bars constrain, but they also comfort and welcome. Huddled close and warm; what more could she want?

Crises, catastrophe, panic. Source unknown, the world is wrong. Tremors like giant hiccups shudder through her entire body, ringing gasping cries from unwilling lungs, forcing awareness on a mind not present. From head to toe she shakes.

Now, now this panic has a source. Giant arms reach down through the non-existent ceiling of her cage, each longer than her entire body. Panic intensifies and shudders turn to writhing.

It is true, those arms bring comfort and welcome, but they also constrain. To unwelcome awareness and sound is added unsettling movement.

But, slowly, everything changes. Awareness gradually narrows to a nearby heartbeat not her own: steady, firm, secure. Soothing whispers break through the gasping cries. And the movement lessens the awareness of the pain.

Succor is offered, and accepted. New focus, sweet and relaxed. A truce is made, between her and those arms. The crises evaporates like mist, like dust in the wind; was it all just a dream?

Eyes never opened cease their flutter. She is at peace, restful, sleeping.



Quotes, Sat. Mar. 13th

"As long as I keep talking children are dying."
- Catherin Wong (who continued to talk for several more minutes)

"You can't rely on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
- Mark Twain

"Rather than simply telling it like it is, the social science construction of the reality of relationships is virtual reality. Psychodynamics is a model, culture is a perspective, gender is a dimension. They are angels of entry into human problems, ways of organizing our minds, and they should not be confused with "the truth," much less the whole truth."
- Edwin Frieman, A Failure of Nerve, 192-193

12.3.10

Quotes of the Day #2

"The most insidious message that children - and adults - get from the average television program is the notion that motivation is singular, that all questions have answers, that justice always triumphs, that love conquers all, that life is unambiguous, and that there will always be a deus ex machine 'in the wings' waiting to rush in."

- Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (New York: Seabury Books, 1997/2007) 82.

_________________________________________________________


"When we begin relying on the Internet for all of our news and information we will turn into a nation of zombies."

- Neil Postman (source unconfirmed. I found this on Wikiquote, through Wikipedia, using Google, immediately after reading the internet news and eating my afternoon brains-snack)

Haiti Song


link courtesy of Christopher


11.3.10

Quotes of the Day

"Its like rubbing my back with a small cat."
- Anonymous

"The safest place for ships is in the harbor, but thats not why ships were built."
- Anonymous

10.3.10

A Happy Surprise: Pirate Latitudes



I remember reading Jurassic Park for the first time; I was young, and it introduced me to an author and a style that I enjoyed immensely. Since then, I have been a fan of Michael Crichton's books. Some of his books have been disappointing (like State of Fear and Timeline) but most of them have ranged from good to highly entertaining, which is the perfect range when one is looking for reading which is relaxing but still possessing some substance.

That said, Kristina, Hannah, and I went to the library this weekend, and as I walked with Hannah, diligently keeping her from tearing pages out of library books, she pulled off of the 'popular' shelf a book entitled Pirate Latitudes. I wouldn't have given it a second glance, except that out of the corner of my eye I caught the author: Michael Crichton.

How could this be? Sadly, Crichton passed away in 2008, and I was certain I had read all of the books he had published at that point. The answer was in the flap: apparently the manuscript was discovered posthumously, completed, among his notes.

Since it's a 'popular' book, I had 7 days to read it, no renewals. It took me three.

My thoughts: A good ride. The book has the normal and interesting historical underpinnings of a Crichton novel (or, at least of a Crichton novel that looks back instead of forward), which I enjoy and which provides the needed level of realism (now I feel like I know 'stuff' about Caribbean pirates, as opposed to how I felt after watching "Pirates of the Caribbean"). The story line is very good, with all the positive twists expected in a swashbuckling adventure, as well as some unexpected ones (there's even a Kraken!). Characters were weak though, and the book ended very abruptly; perhaps the manuscript was not as 'finished' as the publishers would have us believe? So much time was spent developing the plot that some of the people are little more than names.

Adult content: Nothing graphic, but lots of violence that gets pretty close. Sex is present, but not described. No swearing (cursing yes, and some very interesting one's. I particularly liked 'God's blood.' Not one I've heard before).

Overall: Entertaining. A must read if you enjoy Crichton. If not, or if not yet, then your better off to start with some of his older better works (Jurassic Park, Sphere).

Afterthought: There is another posthumous novel expected in 2010; a techno-thriller? I can't wait!


On My Mind #2

More random lists of stuff I'm thinking about.

Friedman's Fables. I just started reading "A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix" by Edwin Friedman, and I plan on getting "Friedman's Fables" from the library. In the meantime, I looked it up, and found several of them online: The Bridge, The Friendly Forest, and 'Round in Circles. Very interesting; worth reading. Go check them out. RIGHT NOW! Why are you still here? *boot*

God's Impassibility. This is a big one for me; skip the paragraph if you don't care. I, like the majority of modern theologians, or so it seems, have been quick to push away from and deny the traditional philosophical idea that God is impassible; especially that he does not suffer. After all, how can we say this after Christ, the incarnation and the cross? Isn't it plain that God did suffer, already, past tense? And what about Auschwitz? We have all heard the famous story, shared by Elie Wiesel in his book Night; this, if nothing else, lays bare the sheer emotional need for a God who suffers. (if you haven't heard the story: here) It has long made sense to me to throw off the clearly 'greek' notion of a static perfection in favor of a obviously more biblical notion of a dynamic perfection, to remove from my mind a God who seems so distant and replace it with the idea of a God is much nearer at hand. Impassibility has, no doubt, powerful arguments laid against it. Then I read several books by David Bentley Hart and he challenged this notion, claiming that many have not fully thought through the implications of a passible God, a God who does not have apatheia. Instead, as we seek for a conception of God that does not contradict "God is Love," Hart claims that "Only a truly transcendent and passionless God can be the fullness of love dwelling within our very being, nearer to us than our inmost parts" and further, that if God suffers then suffering has a place in eternity.... (David Bentley Hart, No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility, Pro Ecclesia Vol. XI, no.2). Reading and thinking continue... but I see their point, and so I am left with the dilemma of figuring out how God can be loving, and Love, and active and involved, and yet impassible, somehow. Weinandy claims to have an answer; we will see.

My sick, and yet unendingly cute, daughter, and my beautiful, patient, and pregant wife who is at home with her. Feel better soon Hannah! Hang in there Kristina :) Love you both.

ICON gym night. Finding and booking a gym is getting pretty ridiculous... public school gyms are run by Parks and Recreation services, and they have contracts with people and groups for every Friday night of year for EVERY GYM IN BURNABY!!!! Plus, these people all have priority for next year, and then after that there is a waiting list that I am at the bottom of... yipee! As for Carver, they won't confirm anything until week of, which is great when I like to plan ahead. Frustration building... soothing music ON.

Sermon time: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12

Broken hearts... no details here :)

"I met the devil and I stared her in the eyes
Her hair had scales like silver serpents
I, a statue, stood there mesmerized

I took the fire escape and made it out alive
Yeah, I still burn from time to time but I've
a healing hand against my side

Blisters on my feet I crawled back home
Frozen from the sleet burned sand and stones
Nourished back to life by life alone
With one shake of the mane regain the throne"
- Relient K (If You Want It)


The Street Name Game

Driving is, depending on your personality, a delight, a bore, a frustration, time wasted, a privilege, etc.

I think most of us don't think about it very much. Lately I've been consciously seeking to use all my alone time in the car for prayer or worship. This has made a huge difference for me in attitude and driving habits, without even going into the spiritual benefits.

That's not what this is post is about though. I want to share a game. Its something Kristina and I made up before we had Hannah, a way to hang out in the car, have fun, and spend time together.

What you need: A car with gas to spare (this, and time, is the cost of your entertainment), along with all the other requirements that go with this (like a driver's license!), good company, and good music. Preferably your good company is also a good DJ, but this is not necessary.

The Rules: How you spend the time is up to you; chatting, singing, listening, whatever. What isn't up to you is where you go. At each intersection, which direction you drive in is decided by a set of pre-determined rules. When we lived in Coquitlam, where most of the streets have names (not numbers) we said that A-M is left, N-Z is right, vowels and numbers mean go straight. But its up to you; house rules are the best. We decided that if you cannot make the turn (its only a three way intersection, traffic, whatever) then you must turn in that direction as soon as possible. Finally, we avoid culdesacs. Alter at whim (as we have had to do now that we live in Surrey, since all the streets are numbers)

In the end, you get to laugh, spend time together, and see places you might never have seen otherwise. The first time we played we ended up driving around behind Burnaby Mountain, which I had never done before. Good times :) Anyway, I bring this up now because the other day Hannah fell asleep on our way home, so we decided to play for the first time in Surrey.

p.s. Does sharing this just show how nerdy I am?

4.3.10

Tea and Crumpets on the Mount of Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36

Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray, taking with him only Peter, James, and John (can you imagine being a disciples who was left behind?). As Jesus prays, His face changes, His clothes become as bright as lightning, and Moses and Elijah drop by for tea and crumpets.

Ever wonder what they talked about? Me neither, at least not until now. Now, because I have to wonder. Not only that, I have to imagine and write down that conversation; it is my final assignment for my MDiv degree at Regent college.

The only clue we are given comes from Luke who tells us that "They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem."

As for me, every time I try to start writing this paper I either feel like I am being arrogant and foolishly academic, or ridiculously irreverent and irreligious. Does Moses greet Jesus with a "Yo, dude, how's it hanging?" or does he fall on his knees before his lord? Maybe both?

I know the key will be for me to get over myself and my hang ups before I will be able to write this, but that doesn't make it easy to do.

On My Mind #1

Most of my posts have topics. Anything titled 'on my mind' will be more like ramblings, lists, stuff I'm reading, random thoughts, whatever. Its like a journal entry which, if you possess the fortitude to venture into such untamed wilderness, you can read.

So whats on my mind?

Reason and faith, science and religion, and the impassibility of God. What do those have to do with each other? Nothing, except that I am reading a book on the first and last, and going to a conference on the middle one (but not until may). "Reason and the Reasons of faith" Excellent book; or at least most of the essays are. "Does God Suffer?" by Weinandy; just started. Regent pastors Conference; my first one, hope its good (Alan Torrance is one of the speakers, I'm excited).

ICON Olympics this Friday. I wish I knew how to do video editing, or had time to learn before tomorrow, or had time to get someone to help me. Was going to ask on Tuesday night's prayer meeting, but I had to leave early so I didn't get a chance.

Preaching in 2.5 weeks on John 8:12-20 "I am the Light of the World" 2nd 'I Am' saying. So rich... Same week, on the 19th, I will be sharing at our 3D outreach event 'Open the Doors'. Busy, so I'm preparing for my sermon already, which is why its on my mind.


Oh, and these quotes:

The 'scandal of philosophy' is not that this proof has yet to be given (proof for the existence of things outside of ourselves; anti-solipsism so to speak), but that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again. Such expectations, aims, and demands arise from an ontologically inadequate way of starting withsomething of such a character that independently of it and 'outside' of it a 'world' is to be proved as present-at-hand.
Heidegger, Being and Time, 249 (brackets are my own insertion)

Reason is a capability endowed in human persons for the making of covenant. It enables us to transcend precisely our self-centeredness, to remain individual selves without being locked within those selves. To put it another way, it enables us to maintain the integrity of our own being while being truthful to the true nature of that which is other than ourselves... Reason as it should be has its focus on the attainment of communion and unity in the Logos.
Carver T. Yu, "Covenantal Rationality and the Healing of Reason" in Reason and the Reasons of Faith, 237