Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

random reads

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
In this very readable, very thought provoking analysis of electronic communciations technology and its impact on our brains and culture, Nicholas Carr brings together media theory (think Marshall McLuhan), history (think Gutenberg) and neuroscience (think discoveries in brain plasticity) to show how computer technology is shaping us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. He argues that such technologies reduce our capacity for deep, creative and sustained linear thought (or at least have the potential to do so) and predispose us to the fragmented, the cursive and the superficial. Worth the read.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, Edith Humphrey
A fascinating and engaging introduction to spiritual theology-- or the theology of spirituality, as the case may be. This book is a very scholarly, devotional, christo-centric, ecumenical and trinitarian overview of what it means for Christians to live in the Spirit and with the Spirit within. Bracing and enlightening.

Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender

five smooth stones for pastoral work, Eugene Peterson

From Darkness to Light: How One Became a Christian in the Early Church, Anne Fields

Life in the Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell
Snell's Life in the Ancient Near East offers a social history of the ANE, tracing the earliest settlement of Mesopotamia, the development of agriculture, first cities, ancient economy and the emergence of empire. Bringing together a rich variety of data gleaned both from the archaeological record and extant historical texts, he tells the history of this cradle of civilization with a special eye for the "human" element - focusing on the forces and factors that would have directly affected the daily life of the various strata of society. Worth a read generally, but all the more for someone with a particular interest in the biblical stories that find their setting and draw their characters and themes from the same provenience.


The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, Richard Davidson
Davidson's Old Testament theology of human sexuality is stunning in its achievement, challenging in its content, and edifying in its conclusions. Davidson addresses every-- and I do mean every-- Old Testament text that deals (even obliquely) with human sexuality, and, through detailed exegesis, careful synthesis, and deep interaction with the scholarly research, develops a detailed picture of the Old Testament's vision for redeemed human sexuality. 700 pages of Biblical scholarship at its best.


Eaarth, Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's Eaarth, is a call for us to wake up smell the ecological coffee...while we can still brew it. Unlike his previous work, or any writing on ecology I've yet read, however, Eaarth does not argue that catastrophe is pending. Instead, he argues that catastrophe has arrived, and that our all talk about "going green to avert disaster," "and "saving the planet" is woefully obsolete. In ecological terms, the planet as we once knew it is gone, he argues, and rather than trying to "avert" disaster, we need to start figuring out how to live in the disaster that's happened. Key themes he identifies as important for life on planet Eaarth resonnated with me as profoundly Christian ways of being (disaster or no). We must stop assuming that "bigger" is better; we must acknowledge limits on economic and technological growth; we must get reacquainted with the land; we need eschew self-sufficency and nurture community.

Love Wins, Rob Bell
So fast and furious has the furor over this book been, that any review will inevitably feel redundant or tardy. Given the crowd on the band wagon by now, I actually had no intention of hopping on myself, but my kids got it for me for Father's Day. About 15 pages in, I realized that I could probably finish it in on good push, so I got it over with. My thoughts: probably the most over-hyped book I ever read; I loved it and found it frustratingly under-developed at the same time; while he raises some important issues, his handling of them reads like a yoda-meets-Tom-Wright account of salvation; nothing C. S. Lewis hasn't already said more clearly and more cleverly; I'm glad he wrote it, and I'm glad the Evangelical world has errupted over it the way it has, and I hope a much more spirited and generous and optimistic understanding of soteriology and eschatology will infuse the evangelical church's mission as a result.

Rediscovering Paul, David Capes et. al.
Rediscovering Paul is a hepful overview of Paul's life, times and theology. While at times I felt it might have gone deeper, or expressed its ideas more clearly, it provides some interesting and inspiring insights into the man behind the letters. Among these is its discussion of the communal aspect of first century letter writing, and the influence of one's community on one's personal sense of identity, and how those issues might have played out in Paul's writings. Another challenging issue that it tackles is the whole process of letter writing in the Greco-Roman world, especially as regards the role a scribe often played in shaping the text, smoothing out the langugae or providing stock phrases, etc.


Lavondyss, Robert Holdstock
If you've read George MacDonald's Lilith, then think of Lavondyss as sort of a Lilith-for-Non-Christians. It's the convoluted labyrinth of a story about a young girl called Tallis and her adventures in a magical wood that brings the Jungian archetypes buried deep in our subconscious to life. Dense with questions about Jungian psychology, and the spiritually-thin-places of the world, and death and myth and magic and story, it's pretty tough slugging at times, but thought provoking and challenging. At times I felt like I was reading the Narnia book C. S. Lewis might have written if he had pursued the "stab of northerness" in directions other than the Christian Faith where he found it eternally satisfied.

Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington III
My friend John Vlainic once ranked Ben Witheringon as one of the strongest Biblical scholars in the Wesleyan tradtion working today. This thin but powerful volume is evidence to support such an accolade. I opened it expecting (judging by the cover) either a how-to book on Christian finances, or (judging by the other books I've read on Christ and Money) a hodge-podge of Bible verses taken out of context and mushed together as proof texts about the tithe. I got neither; instead, Ben Witherington walks slowly, thoughtful and exegetically through the breadth of Biblical teaching, with special sensitivity to the cultural context of the various texts, the tension between Old and New Testament teaching on the topic, and the differences between modern and ancient economies. If I were to recommend one book to develop a biblical theology of money, it would be this one.

The Gravedigger File, Os Guinness
My first taste of Os Guinness, and, if you don't mind a mangled metaphor, it went down like a bracing pint of... well... Guinness. Grave Digger file is sort of a "Screwtape Letters" project on a church-wide scale. In concept, the book is a series of "training files" for an undercover agent attempting to undermine and ultimately sabotage the Western Church, delivered from the pen of a seasoned saboteur to a young agent recently assigned to Los Angeles. In plot, the young agent ultimately defects, and delivers the "Gravedigger File" into the hands of a Christian, urging him to alert the Church to the operation. It is bursting with "things that make you go hmmm..." and deserves a second, careful read with pen in hand, ready to mine it for its scintillating and eminently quotable lines.

All Things New

John 20:10-18:  New



Blood on the Lintel of the World

Happy Holy Saturday everyone. 

Here are a few details from our evening Good Friday service at the FreeWay last night.


John 19:31-37:  Blood on the Lintel of the World

Books on the Book of Ecclesiastes

Two Sundays ago I preached my last sermon in our seven part series on Ecclesiastes. I found it interesting as I was working through this challenging book to note the number of other churches that were exploring Ecclesiastes at the same time as me. My parents' church in London had finished a series on Ecclesiastes just before I began mine; my brother's church in Michigan started a series on Ecclesiastes while I was still in the middle of mine; and a friend's church in Coburg was also working on Ecclesiastes at the same time as me. I've mentioned before how poignant and relevant I've found this book; it would seem it's been speaking in similar ways to a number of other churches.

For posterity's sake, I thought I'd share a few quick notes on the commentaries and resources I used in preparing this series.

Ecclesiastes:  Why Everything Matters, Philip Graham Ryken

This book was a bit of a disappointment to me.  Misunderstanding the series title ("Preaching the Word"), I purchased it assuming I was getting a pulpit commentary that would help me do just that (i.e. preach the Word).  Instead, Philip Ryken's book read like an extended series of sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes, which is precisely, I think, what it was meant to be.  It wasn't an entire waste, of course, inasmuch as seeing how other preachers have tackled specific texts is informative, illuminating and inspiring; and there were some insights here that helped me in my own sermon prep.  Overall, however, it had neither the depth nor breadth I was hoping for when I added it to the list of sermon resources.

A Time to Tear Down and A Time to Build Up,  Michael v. Fox.

What Everything Matters lacked in depth, A Time to Tear Down more than compensated for.  This fresh, erudite, creative and scholarly study of Ecclesiastes is, in my opinion, must-read material for anyone wanting to go deep with this book.  Fox's discussion of hebel-- and the sophistication with which he compares it to Albert Camus' existentialist absurdity-- takes you to the heart of Ecclesiastes like no other book I encountered. And his work with the other major themes leave you feeling like you've really met the Teacher.  His commentary section, too, is thorough and thoughtful.  I drank especially deep draughts of this commentary for Sermon 1 and Sermon 3 in my series.

Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes, Sidney Greidanus.

I've read a couple of other books by Sidney Greidanus, and his approach to Christ-centred, expository preaching has deeply impacted me.  Especially his Preaching Christ from the Old Testament left a lasting mark on my own approach to preaching Old Testament texts, and from him I learned to appreciate the homiletical dictum:  "Preachers turn Grace into Law whenever we present anthropocentric imperatives without the divine indicative."  This book reads like an extended application of his previous work, and I found it very helpful.  In the introduction he tells a story about preaching a painstakingly researched sermon on Ecclesiastes early in his preaching ministry.  A seasoned pastor who was in the congregation approached him after and said:  "Good sermon, pastor, but I'm wondering, could a Rabbi in a Synagogue have preached it just as easily?"  This set him on a quest to uncover what it is about Christian preaching of the Old Testament that makes it especially Christian.  Besides the treasure trove of exegetical insights it provided me, I found this commentary helpful as a point of reference in my own effort to keep my handling of this profound book Christ-centred.

Is this all there is to Life?  Answers from Ecclesiastes, Ray Steadman.

This devotional book was actually just sitting there on the shelf in our very limited church library, so I grabbed it early on in my research to get a popular-level view of Ecclesiastes.  Compared to Greidanus and Fox (and even Ryken), of course, the bones on this one seemed a little lean.  For the most part, it read like the loosely compiled sermon notes of a pastor's verse-by-verser on Ecclesiastes, which he simply bound and published after the fact.  But again, it was helpful to see where other preachers had gone with The Preacher, and part way through I realized I was reading Steadman more for moral support than exegetical insight.

Some Palm Sunday Re-runs

What with it being Holy Week and all, I thought it would be fitting to re-post the following two posts I did las year about the fascinating connections between Christmas and Palm Sunday.  Enjoy (or re-enjoy, as the case may be).

Hark the Other Hearld

Each of the four gospel writers put something different on the lips of the crowds as Jesus rode his triumphant donkey into Jerusalem the week before Passover. For Matthew, it was a reference to his Davidic pedigree. With a hosanna. For Mark, it was a reference more broadly to the coming "Kingdom of our father David." With a hosanna. For John it was a reference to Jesus as simply "the king of Israel." With a hosanna. (And yet not so simply, inasmuch as for John, Yahweh himself is the only true King of Israel).

But for Luke there was no "hosanna." Instead, the crowd shouted: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord." And then they added: "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."

Now if I were a stout harmonizer, I'd want to throw in one of Matthew's Davidic references or one of Mark's Hosannas here for good measure. But because I'm not anymore, something jumped out at me when I read Luke 19:38 the other day that I can't get out of my mind.

"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest" cheered the crowds; and I wonder: did they know they were echoing the very words of the angelic host that heralded Christ's birth so many chapters (and some 33 years) earlier, when he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and a celestial choir declared "Glory to God in the highest / and on the earth peace ... "? Whether they heard the echoes or not, Luke doesn't seem to want us to miss them: in the original Greek, the parallels are quite striking. 2:19 reads "Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace..." while 19:38 echoes back: "in heaven peace and glory in the highest" (almost as though they were open and close brackets respectively to the gospel narrative that has brought us to this point.)

But this is more than just a clever literary device. With its subtle echo of those of herald angels who sang glory to the newborn king back in 2:19, Luke's account of the Triumphal Entry here actually teaches us what it means to sing "God and sinners reconciled" in the fullest sense. Because as the God-Man, Jesus Christ always acts both as God before man, on God's side, and as man before God, on our side. Or as Paul put it, there is only one mediator between God and man; the man Christ Jesus.

So, when God-come-in-the-flesh was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, God made peace with humans-- in Jesus, the fully divine Messiah. Thus heavenly heralds filled the skies declaring peace on earth. But as the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus not only reconciles God to sinners, he also reconciles sinners to God. So when the true King of God's people rode humbly into the city of God's people to be enthroned as God's Prince of Peace, man made peace with God-- in Jesus, the fully human Messiah. Thus earthly heralds declared peace in heaven.

Jesus has reconciled heaven to earth; and he has reconciled earth to heaven. And in Jesus, and through faith in Jesus, we are invited to become ambassadors of that reconciliation in the fullest sense: declaring with radiant angels and dusty disciples alike that Jesus Christ has made perfect peace between Creator and creation.



Trimupal Entries and the True Meaning of Christmas

A while ago I shared some observations on the connections in Luke's Gospel between the nativity narrative and the triumphal entry. Namely: when Jesus is born, angels sing peace on earth and glory in the highest; and later when Jesus rides triumphant into Jerusalem, the disciples echo this back, shouting peace in heaven and glory in the highest.

Luke's not the only one to draw parallels between Christ's birth and his Triumphant Entry. In Matthew's narrative, three magi enter Jerusalem asking about the one born "King of the Jews," and all Jerusalem (Herod included) is "disturbed" at the query (2:3). No wonder they trembled, inasmuch as "King of the Jews" is the exact title Rome had given Herod himself back in 40 BC. This child's birth is as direct a challenge to the powers that be as Jerusalem could imagine.

But, curiously, when Jesus rides his revolutionary donkey into Jerusalem, in open defiance of those powers that be, Matthew notes how all of Jerusalem was "shaken" at the sight (21:10). Like Luke, Matthew seems intent on having the nativity narrative echo hauntingly in the background of this momentous occasion: when he was born, he stirred up the city's complacency; when he rode, thirty three years later, through the gates as its rightful and perfect king, he shook that complacency to its foundations.

I call this curious because I know that if I were to point to an event that fulfilled the "meaning" of Christ's birth, I'd point intuitively and directly to the cross; and yet these inspired narrators of Jesus' story point, instead, and specifically, to the Triumphal Entry. And I can't help but wonder why (admitting, at the same time, that the Triumphal Entry only has meaning because of the way the cross and resurrection turned the very notion of "triumph" on its head).

But maybe Matthew's point here is that the "true meaning" of this child's birth, in part, lies in the way God issues His Messianic challenge, through him, to the status quo-- to Sadducean elitism, to Herodian despotism, to Pharisaical legalism, to Roman hegemony. So when he rides a gentle donkey into the City of the Great King, as the ultimate revelation of God's challenge to the status quo, nothing could be more fitting than to remember how he once squirmed helpless on the knee of his shamed mother in the humble city of David, while foreigners and outsiders hailed him as Lord and "the status quo" worried to hear him named.

And I'm left wondering: what would it look like if we had a "Triumphal Entry" Christmas this year? What might it mean for us if we let Christmas shake our complacency to its foundations and let Mary's Boy Child Jesus Christ, in his coming, issue God's direct challenge to our status quo-- our spiritual elitisms, our unacknowledged despotisms, our self-righteous legalisms, our unseen hegemonies-- where ever they might be?

The King and the Temple: A Sermon for Palm Sunday

Here's our Palm Sunday Sermon this week at the FreeWay.  Usually one of the Triumphal Entry texts gets tackled at the start of Holy Week, but for this Palm Sunday, I thought I'd go just a few verses further and take a look at the Jesus' demonstration in the Temple.  Our text was Matthew 21:12-17.

Matthew 21:12-17.  From the Mouths of Babes


And here's the Soreg Inscription:



P.S. (Love Wins)

One of the things that makes pastoral ministry pastoral, I'm learning, is giving theological ideas "legs" for people.  Which explains why, re-reading yesterday's post, I could easily imagine somebody wondering the big "So what?" as they waded through my rather abstract ramblings about the crisis of evangelical ecclesiology and the controversy over Rob Bell's Love Wins.  So what...does it look like, to address the crisis in evangelical ecclesiology, after all?

This is a bigger question than a 500-word blog post could tackle, to be sure, but for starters, and as hint as to where I'd want to go with it, I'd suggest you check out my friend Jon Coutt's thorough and insightful work with Rob Bell's book over at this side of Sunday.  What is particularly exceptional about his series is that Jon hasn't asked, with the likes of John Piper and Kevin De Young and the rest, "Is Rob Bell a heretic?" (and then bid him a cursive and uncharitable "farewell" (or "welcome to the club!" as the case may be).)  Instead, Jon has framed his whole analysis around this question:  "Could someone convinced by [this] book sign my denomination's statement of faith?" (Jon is a pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance). 

The difference here is subtle, but profound: not "is Bell 'heretical' or 'orthodox'?" but "How does the position of my ecclesiological tradition inform and/or contrast to Bell's position."  Rather than assuming the authority to pontificate ex cathedral about a Christian brother's alleged heresy, Jon's question is humble enough to admit that theological work must have an ecclesiological context, and that this context inevitably shapes and even limits (in healthy ways) our theological positions.  It doesn't address the ecclesiological crisis in evangelicalism, perhaps, but it at least acknowledges it and refuses to say more than his context permits him to.  Jon has read Beyond Foundationalism, too (and he reads this blog once in a while, too, so I welcome his corrective input if I've mis-represented him here).

If more evangelical leaders evidenced this kind of humility, perhaps we really would start moving in constructive ways towards a positive evangelical ecclesiology.  Because what's interesting to me is that, six posts into the series, Jon hasn't even discussed Rob Bell's book yet.  The way he's framed his question has forced him back to his own tradition, to explore it more deeply and question it more probingly, seeking to understand its biblical basis, its historical roots, its import and application (and he has made there some illuminating discoveries), so that he can answer his research question honestly.  And it's only in that kind of probing, I think, the self-probing of our own traditions first, that we gain the necessary humility to speak the truth to one another in love.

What No One Yet has Said About the Triumph of Love

In case you've been living in the evangelical world's version of a sensory deprivation tank in Siberia and somehow missed it, let me catch you up to speed. Recently, the popular and/or controversial pastor of a mega-church in Michigan published a book about Heaven and Hell that made big waves in the sea of all-things-evangelical. Actually, it was the pre-game show that really made the wave: a 3 minute advert for his book, which he posted on the Internet, in which he hinted that he would be giving some non-traditional answers to some hard questions about the doctrine of hell, about which some self-appointed watch dogs over at a blog called "The Gospel Coalition" cried universalist! and heretic!, and after which Harper Collins bumped the book's release date up by two weeks.

Here's the video:


Just how big a wave did it make? To compare: if you google Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict's most recent publication, you'll garner around 668,000 hits. A google of this pastor's Love Wins will earn you 606,000 hits. So the literary crest he's carving, it would seem, is at least as big as the Pope's. Heck: even CBC News, that pillar of secular liberalism, caught wind of it and figured it was worth a mention, though their story reads like a third-grader's account of the theory of relativity, for all the sensitivity to the real issues it shows (read the article here).

Bloggers better than I have taken more pains than I to review, dissect, respond and otherwise put their theological surfboard to the wave. I'd suggest you start here; then read this nuanced deconstruction of some of the theological terms being used in the debate; and then read this 10-part series by Steve Holmes, lecturer at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews Scotland. He offers, by all accounts, the most thorough and theologically erudite analysis of the book you'll find on the web.

Of course, after Don Miller published this scintillating review, it seemed like there was simply nothing left to say.

But there is something I haven't yet heard anyone say, and it stands out glaringly to me, so I'll offer it here.

The crisis over this book, such as it is, is not really a crisis about the doctrines of Heaven and Hell at all. It is more a crisis, I think, of ecclesiology. The problem that the guys who have come out swinging really have with this Michiagan pastor is not that he may hold untraditional views on the afterlife. By most accounts, he isn't saying anything that hasn't been said before; and to be sure, pastors who have called themselves Christian have said far more radical things than him, with impunity as far as the likes of the Gospel Coalition are concerned.

Their real problem is that "he's one of us" (so to speak), or at least in lots of other ways he sure sounds like it. He talks evangelical Jesus talk like "one of us." He's published by reputable evangelical publishers like "one of us." He calls himself evangelical, like "one of us." He upholds the Lordship of Jesus in old fashioned ways, like "one of us." If he were just a "flaky" "liberal" pastor, they could dismiss him and be done with it. And it's no coincidence that many conservatives with the hardest cores have tried to stick the anathema of "liberalism" on him in disingenuous ways, because if he were simply a "liberal" they would have just cause to turn down his application to the club without even considering it.

But he's evangelical. And because Evangelicalism is such a loosely defined tribe, a tribe where inclusion is based on whether or or not your "version" of the Gospel is like mine, or you "feel" like me when you talk about the Bible, or you "sound" like me when you pray, or sing, or wax theological, a tribe where membership is more often based on our self-identification as evangelical and, for all our talk about Sola Scriptura, authority is more often based on worldly measures of popularity (who has the biggest church, the best-selling book, the most popular broadcast, the most endorsements from other self-appointed leaders of the movement)... because evangelicalism has no Magisterium other than blog stats and book sales... because we suffer this crisis of ecclesiology, self-appointed Gospel Coalitions and self-described Christian Hedonists feel it is necessary to guard the ford, ready to execute any brother who can't pronounce Shibboleth. (And as an aside, this is why the uproar over Rick Warren's invitation to the Desiring God Conference last year was so significant-- it illustrates the same crisis in ecclesiology-- an "evangelical leader" had invited someone we weren't quite sure about to the party).

Let me try saying it this way: "Heretic" and "Orthodox" are as much ecclesiological designations as they are theological. To be orthodox is to be in keeping with the received teaching of the Church-- and to be a heretic is to be contrary to the received teaching of the Church. But the crisis is that there is no Church, as such, in Evangelicalism. There are only churches. There is no legitimate, single "body" which uniformly "receives" teaching; there are only bodies-- Zondervan and the EFC and the good folks at Christianity Today and the Gospel Coalition and the Billy Graham Association and Big Idea (until Hollywood bought them) and Vineyard (well, we'll sing their songs but we're not so sure about their methods) and so on.

In an ecclesiologically fragmented universe like this, anyone who doesn't agree with me is a heretic and anyone who does is orthodox, and it's not just my right, it's my duty to personally defend my "truth" against your "error"; and since we'll never get to sit together at the next Ecumenical Synod, the easiest way to do so is to lash out (in ways that are by turns pompous, stingy, dismissive and silly).

I haven't read Love Wins, and probably won't; I have read Stan Grenz's Beyond Foundationalism, which is perhaps a more helpful book anyways, in that it helps us to understand the interplay between the community, theology, Scripture, tradition, Church and truth that's at work here. But thinking about all this, and looking for something to say about it that 606,000 posts haven't yet touched on, I want to ask: what if, instead of 606,000 passionate posts about the controversy over Love Wins, we devoted that much web-space to equally passionate discussions about the crisis in Evangelical ecclesiology that the Love Wins controversy has simply brought to light?

Perhaps then the energy spent on self-righteously denouncing a "suspected heretic" (who, as far as I can tell, is no heretic at all) might be spent instead on making Ephesians 4:1-6 our reality as evangelicals.

A Parable for a Wedding Homily

I had the honour of officiating at my first ever wedding on Saturday. There's much I might say about the day, but for now I thought I'd share a short excerpt from the introduction of my wedding homily.

I heard a story once about a Rabbi whose student came to see him after an absence of many months. The young Talmid had been looking to marry, so the Rabbi asked him: “And have you found your wife yet, my son?”

“No, Rav,” said the Talmid. “I met a woman who is quite lovely. When she smiles she lights up the room; and when she laughs it is like the brook in a spring meadow.”

“And will you not marry her?” asked the Rabbi. “I think not,” came the reply. “I am, after all, looking for the perfect woman.”

The Talmid went away for many years. When he visited his Rabbi again, he moved a bit slower, and the world had etched lines around his eyes. “And have you found your wife yet, my son?” the Rabbi asked.

“No, Rav,” said the Talmid. “I have met a woman who is quite noble. When she speaks her words are pearls of wisdom and when she works her hands are full of grace.” “And will you not marry her?”

“I think not,” came the reply. “I am, after all, looking for the perfect woman.”

Well, the Talmid was gone for many years and when he visited his Rabbi again, he moved slower still, and the world had dusted him with grey. “And have you found your wife yet, my son?” the Rabbi asked.

“Oh, Rav. I met the perfect woman. When she smiled it lit up the room, and when she spoke her words were wisdom, and when sat and did nothing, even then my heart was content. She was the perfect woman, indeed.”

“And did you not marry her?” Asked the Rabbi.

“No, Rav,” came the reply: “She was looking for the perfect man.”

Battling Blogger's Block

When I started terra incognita two years ago, I never expected that 275 posts later I'd have run out of things to say. For the last three weeks, however, I've been lugging around a blogger's block the size of the Rock of Sisyphus. Every idea that comes to me seems over-done or hardly worth the effort, and that plain old green header kept staring me down every time I sat in front of the screen. Enough hits come up when I google "blogger's block" to suspect this is a common malady, and will run its course in due time.

All of that to explain the aesthetic overhaul here at terra incognita: out with the old, plain-Jane green header and white-washed colours, in with a whole new theme. This was partly an effort to inject some new life into my blog; but more to the point it was a blatant exercise in procrastination (my hope was that the blogger's block was ice, and by stalling a bit it would simply melt on its own). My first effort at re-design included a theme called "Dark Ritual," but my son, after asking cautiously if I wanted his "honest opinion," told me that when he saw it he felt like he was sitting down to read the "morbid thoughts" of a "teenaged-girl Twilight Series fan" (as though there were other kinds of Twilight fans). I squinted my eyes and tilted my head and realized he was right. This is effort two.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy. More to the point, I hope it serves its purpose and inspires some new blogging enthusiasm. Nothing like moving the furniture around to get a new lease on the place.

Hypocrisy and the Modular Mind

So today's episode of CBC's The Current provided more than its fair share of blog-fodder for an explorer of spiritual terra incognita like myself. First was Neil Morrison's fascinating report about social scientist Alex Todorov, who has conducted indepth studies of our subconscious reactions to the human face. He found that when he showed children photos of political candidates and asked them to choose, based solely on facial appearance, which person would "make a better captain" for an ocean voyage game they were playing, their immediate gut reactions were able to predict actual election outcomes with more than 70% accuracy. This was fascinating enough, but then he reproduced his results with a group of PhD-credentialed psychologists, who should have known better than to let such prejudices get the better of them. His conclusion: our immediate, gut-level reaction to the faces of candidates plays a substantial (even deterministic) role in shaping how we will vote.

And while I was mulling over the theological significance the Scriptures place on the human face, and how the Pharisees, for instance, commended Jesus precisely because he refused to "look into the face" of men, and what light this might shed on Alex Todorov's study, The Current went on to talk about the controversy surrounding circumcision. They interviewed a lady who's heading a movement in the States to have neo-natal circumcisions banned, despite recent studies which suggest that circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV and other STD's (the lady from NO-CIRC they interviewed bandied about words like "child mutilation," "torture," and "excruciating, unnecessary pain"). And I couldn't help but ponder the theological significance the Scriptures place on circumcision as the mark of the Abrahamic covenant.

Anyways, for a blogger curious about intersections between culture and faith, The Current's fruit was indeed low-hanging and tantalizing today.

But then they went on with this segment about hypocrisy. If you have the 25 minutes to spare, give it a listen; if not, let me give you the Coles notes. Robert Cursban argues that it is decidedly hypocritical of us to denounce our politicians as "hypocritical," inasmuch as hypocrisy is built into the very architecture of our brains. He shared some neuroscience which suggests that the neurological systems which govern our behaviour and the systems which govern ethical decision making are distinctly isolated from one another, and there is nothing in us that naturally keeps these systems functioning in consistent ways. He describes this "natural inconsistency in our neuro-physiology" as having a "modular mind" (i.e. a mind in which behaviour and ethics are neurologically compartmentalized). And he says that biologically speaking, we all have modular minds.

Hearing Robert Cursban talk about the "modular mind," and that missing "something" which keeps our neurological systems functioning consistently-- the predisposition to hypocrisy that seems coded into our very DNA--I couldn't help but think of Jesus. And Matthew 7:1-6. And the vitriol he reserved for only the most hypocritical of his religious contemporaries. And I couldn't help but wonder if the wholeness that Jesus invites his followers to experience is profoundly more than any mere metaphorical wholeness. Perhaps it is a breaking down, in a very real sense, the natural walls of our modular mind.

The Wisdom of Qohelet (VI)

Here is sermon 6 in our series on the Book Ecclesiastes:


Ecclesiastes 4:7-12. Life Together