len on November 3rd, 2016

HofferFor though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image. And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities.

When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed.
For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender,
and the action which follows them. It is as if garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous,

len on October 26th, 2016

imageI have been asked to plan a course for next year that explores different maps for spiritual formation. I went to bed last night with the terrain in my head, wondering what are the essential questions that must be addressed. Phyllis Tickle came to mind – in her book The Great Emergence she lists the three big questions that are up for grabs every 500 years or so when our culture makes a major shift. They relate to anthropology, epistemology, and religious pluralism.

Anthropology must be the starting point for any model of spiritual formation. We have to answer the big question, “What does it mean to be human?” More specifically, what does it mean to be made in God’s image? And what does a fully alive person look like? This gets at the telos question — the fully mature person. But as part of this question, we also have to explore what is broken in us.

Jamie Smith has cued us to another piece — we are liturgical beings. To be human is to love. What is the role of desire in growth in Christ, and what distortions of desire will aim to distract us? Jamie works out of Augustine to explore this question, and it was Augustine who also richly framed the Trinitarian piece. That cues us to another aspect of personhood – how does the individual relate to the community in spiritual maturity? And how do will, emotion, cognition and the sensing person interact in spiritual life?

Epistemology frames the question of knowledge. How do we know what we know? And specifically, what does it mean to know Christ? Exploring this question will also lay bare some of our cultural assumptions around knowledge, and thus also cue us to the shifting tides in our cultural context. Anselm said, “Credo ut intelligam.” But Bernard of Clairvaux had a different frame, “Credo ut experiar.” I know in order to experience. Eugene Peterson reminds us that John was asked to “eat this book.” That’s a different conversation in spiritual theology than one of mere cognition.

While knowledge seems like a positive category, we have also learned that uncertainty is important in growth in grace. Related, paradox and “opening space” have a role in change. How do we address these elements in spiritual formation? The spiritually mature often attest that what once appeared as a black and white world in later years seems much more mysterious.

Finally, pedagogy. Christian leaders facilitate the growth of others. What are the key methods? How do we help others to grow as disciples of Jesus? How do we engage a variety of learning styles? Here again we relate different elements that seem to address different parts of the human situation. Formal teaching, learning by example and by practice, even learning through confusion and paradox as with zen practices. We are back to anthropology here, more than merely learning styles. Can one grow through practices like singing and dance, or are these merely celebratory practices?

len on October 12th, 2016

I’ve been into this title by Michael J. Gorman – a really excellent, lucid treatment of the book of Revelation. I’ll be spending four Sundays attempting to make Revelation relevant.

The challenge when working through this book, one that Luther thought should not have been included in the Canon, is that it has such a wildly mixed history of interpretation. Is it analogical (with correlation as the goal), or is it preterist? Was its primary intention a call to the church of the time to be faithful in persecution, or was it intended for a future application? Or both?

Deconstruction has to be the first task, with any book that has been so recently colonized for prophetic, quasi-political agendas. Dispensational theology really only took off late in the 19th century, yet it has been that field that has dominated the popular interpretation schemes, along with names like Tim LaHaye and David Jeremiah.

Did you know that the term “antiChrist” doesn’t even occur in the book? That was the first surprise. Michael writes,

“Revelation is not about the antichrist, but about the living Christ. it is not about a rapture out of this world but about faithful discipleship in this world. That is, like every other New Testament book, Revelation is about Jesus Christ — “A revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1;1) — and about following him in obedience and love. “If anyone asks, ‘Why read the Apocalypse?’, the unhesitating answer must be, “To know Christ better.” In this last book of the Christian Bible, Jesus is portrayed especially as

* the Faithful Witness, who remained true to God despite tribulation;
* the Present One, who walks among the communities of his followers, speaking words of comfort and challenge through the Spirit;
* the Lamb that was slain and now reigns with God the Creator, sharing in the devotion and worship due God alone; and
* the Coming One, who will bring God’s purpose to fulfillment and reign with God among the people of God in the new heaven and earth. (xv) Read the rest of this entry »

len on October 11th, 2016

In the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus “the whole created order is taken up into the fate of this particular representative man at this particular moment of history, on whose one fate turns the redemption of all” (RMO 15). The resurrection is “[t]he sign that God has stood by his created order” (15). So there is no tension or choice to be made between a so-called “ethics of the kingdom” or an “ethics of creation”: “This way of posing the alternatives is not acceptable,” O’Donovan comments,

for the very act of God which ushers in his kingdom is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the reaffirmation of creation. A kingdom ethics which was set up in opposition to creation could not possibly be interested in the same eschatological kingdom as that which the New Testament proclaims. […] A creation ethics, on the other hand, which was set up in opposition to the kingdom, could not possibly be evangelical ethics, since it would fail to take note of the good news that God had acted to bring all that he had made to its fulfillment. (O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, 15)

From Cardus

len on October 7th, 2016

It’s survival in the city
When you live from day to day
City streets don’t have much pity
When you’re down, that’s where you’ll stay.
.. The Eagles

The classic Eagles song tells one side of the story. William Cronon notes that for many of us cities have “represented all that [is] most unnatural about human life… a cancer on an otherwise beautiful landscape.” (Cronon, 1992. 17) This dualistic view has the negative effect of limiting creative and redemptive engagement in our urban places. We must move beyond the duality of country good, urban bad: a more nuanced engagement is needed.

imageBut, what is a city? Is a city different than a town or a hamlet? Is a city defined by population, geography, or function, or some combination of these? In his book The City Shaped, Spiro Kostoff offers two popular definitions for the city, both dating back to 1938. “For L. Wirth, a city is a ‘restively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals.’ For Mumford, a city is a ‘point of maximum concentration for the power and culture of a community.’” (Cronon, 1992. 26) More recently, Tim Keller defines city as “a walkable, shared, mixed-use, diverse area. It is a place of commerce, residence, culture and politics.” (Cronon, 1992. 26) This is what we call a functional definition.

Broadly speaking there are three models of city, organized by function. Architect Kevin Lynch delineates these as cosmic, practical, and organic. The “cosmic” city is designed to reflect the core of a belief system. Ancient Chinese capitals were laid out in perfect squares, with their twelve gates representing the months of the year. The “practical” city is imagined after a machine, and grows as new parts are added and old parts altered. New York is a practical city.

The third type is the “organic” city. Here functions are arranged organically, with cohesion, access and function acting together. Streets may meander, and neighbourhoods and boroughs are joined together in the greater labyrinth. London, England is a good example of an organic city, as are Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC.

“Show me your city and I will show you what it is you long for.” (Ward, 2003. 467)

Why concern ourselves with the city? More than 80% of Canadians now live in cities, and this proportion will increase. The city is the place where most people will exercise their “skilled mastery” (Genesis 1, “radah”) in this century. This will translate into place-making in the city. Jacques Ellul writes,

The city dweller becomes someone else because of the city. And the city can become something else because of God’s presence and the results in the life of a man [sic] who has met God. And so a complex cacophony raises its blaring voice, and only God can see and make harmony of it. (Ellul, 1970. 44)

Our task in skilled mastery doesn’t stop with farmers and craftsmen, but includes shaping the urban landscape. This becomes only more important when we realize that our environments in turn will shape us. Will our environment make us more human, or less? Will our urban places help us to thrive, and offer us a context for shalom, encouraging practices that make space for the Kingdom? Even in the city, place-making is determined by a master-story.

The narratives which shape our cities are complex. The forces of global mapping privilege the universal in the name of profit. Graham Ward writes that, “the major issues affecting a global city are increasingly less local, or even national – they are international. This is mainly because it is an international profile that the major cities of the world are competing for in order to attract investment.” (Ward, 2005. 30) Thus the ability to make choices is often suspended, transferred to multinational corporations where unelected leaders wield enormous power. Ramachandra identifies the global village, in the sense of a mutually enriching exchange, as a myth. (Ramachandra, 2006)

What, then, does characterize global cities? According to Ward, the answer is fear and anxiety. He writes that, “The global, post-secular city [London] is the home of the migrant soul. Citizens are caught between two public narratives: the potential violence of coexisting cultural differences, and the fear of the erasure of difference.” (Ward, 2005. 39) He notes that both these narratives are totalitarian and depoliticizing (they do not lead to engagement). Ward argues that the alternative is a “practice of living that… negotiates difference without assimilation.” (Ward, 2005. 39)

Some say that tolerance is a Canadian virtue, and certainly an ideal to which liberal Canadian elites aspire. But tolerance is not a Christian ideal: rather, our engagement is a politics of resistance rooted in a paradox. David Bentley Hart frames the paradox like this: “He is not the high who stands over against the low, but is the infinite act of existence that gives high and low a place.” (Hart, 2003) The essential practice is the Eucharist, which “creates space for the diversity of human voices to participate.” (Sheldrake, 2001. 168) The Church is an anticipation of the eschatological humanity, with the Eucharist a counter-narrative of globalization that builds the global Body of Christ in every place, with all its beautiful diversity.

(This is the first half of an introductory chapter that will appear in “Soul of the City: Mapping the Spiritual Geography of Eleven Canadian Cities,” later this fall.)

len on October 6th, 2016

imageStephen Garner and Heidi Campbell have published this book, released by Baker in September. As connective technologies and new media are now ubiquitous, we have need to reflect on the way we use these tools, and the way they shape us. It’s that double edged knife so common to technologies, that there is this dialogical kind of praxis involved. How do we evaluate these trends within our global information society? And what frames and metaphors help us?

The metaphor of the network is a powerful one. It offers a way of seeing how the internet functions, and also a way of viewing social interactions. In their book Campbell and Garner examine three discourses, arising from (1) science fiction and stories around the birth of the internet; (2) the rise of social network analysis as a way to understand contemporary communities, and (3)rhetoric related to the network society.

It’s quite a tour de force, and in the first few chapters I was gaining some new perspective on these forces and technologies that have engaged so much of my life for 20 plus years. In the INTRO the authors quote Wellman and Raine in Networked, who describe the social operating system of the network as “networked individualism,” marked by several core qualities. “The social operating system is personal — the individual is at the autonomous centre just as she is reading out from her computer; multiuser — people are interaction with numerous diverse others; multitasking — people are doing several things simultaneously; and multithreaded — they are doing them ore or less simultaneously.” (9) It’s intriguing to recognize that the network privileges the individual, in ways that can both encourage interaction or contribute to social isolation.

The authors cover some good historical territory, reflecting on the much earlier shift from orality to the printing press. It may be familiar ground for some, whether filtered through the work of Karl Rashcke (“The Next Reformation”) or Walter Ong. But looking back to these historical events gives us a way of seeing the current transition, and how new technologies become accepted and integrated into culture. One comment that caught me in this second chapter relates to the democratizing power of information technologies. Graham Houston argues that, “the increasing control of the technological world by a decreasing number of experts and technocrats is challenging the presupposition that technology is a democratic medium…” (31)

In the same chapter, Garner and Campbell reference the notion of technology as an ecology. Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day (Using Technology with Heart) define information ecology as a “system of people, practices, values and technologies in a particular local environment. In information technologies, the spotlight is not on technology; but on human activities that are served by technology.” (35) In this view technology is not just a single tool used by an individual for a particular end, but is rather a network of relationships that respond to local environmental changes. This had me thinking about urban contexts and digital connectivity. While we have seen that Twitter can be a powerful tool for civic engagement (think Occupy or the Arab Spring) we also know it can be a solvent to neighbourly connection (think video game addiction). Ecologies are always complex and adaptive — they partake of the qualities of complexity, where sensitive initial conditions can lead to unexpected outcomes (the butterfly effect).

Just a little further along in the next chapter, Campbell and Garner talk about “publicized privacy.” The blurring of public and private boundaries, in a world where we are “always on,” is giving rise to a new space. Sure, we all know about virtual space. But have we recognized that it is blurring the way we think about space in general? We have always had a generalized dichotomy between public and private. Now, however, we have a third space — connected space. It is neither public, nor really private. Campbell and Garner, borrowing from Sloop and Gunn, use the term ‘publicized privacy.” (57) The paradox of this mediating space is that it offers unique opportunity to express one’s opinion, but limited control. It’s a little like having a baby. Once that life enters the world we have limited control. Sites like Youtube or Vimeo open a public platform for apologetics, storytelling, etc., but digital sharing is often iterative, and subject to various sorts of mash-up and remix. Once an artifact is online it becomes malleable.

As you can see, there is a lot here, and I highly recommend this work. The link to the Baker page is HERE. This is the TOC

Introduction: When New Media Meets Faith
1. Theology of Technology 101: Understanding the Relationship between Theology and Technology
2. New Media Theory 101: Understanding New Media and the Network Society
3. Networked Religion: Considering How Faith Is Lived in a Network Society
4. Merging the Network with Theology: Who Is My Neighbor in Digital Culture?
5. Developing a Faith-Based Community Response to New Media
6. Engaging Appropriately with Technology and Media

The detailed Index contains names, nouns and subjects.

len on October 5th, 2016

I’ve spent nearly a hundred hours in the air since Aug 14 — so I am now feeling personally responsible for climate change! It’s too much in so short a time, although the trips themselves were worth it.

Elizabeth and I arrived in England in the early morning of the 17th. We spent four days in central London, in a small hotel just north of Hyde park. So we explored the familiar places, as well as visiting a couple of local churches. We walked a lot, something Londoners seem to do. We noticed that there were far fewer large individuals in London than in Canadian or American cities. Maybe its the way they rush around on the underground in a hurry to make the train!

We did tours of Kensington and Buckingham, including the State Rooms at Buckingham — rooms which are not always open to the public. Tea in the orangery. And of course we did the Tower of London! Three hours there – so much history and in mid September it really was not crowded.

On the third day we did a tour of Westminster Abbey. I confess I had not known what to expect, but I did not expect floors and halls and nooks chock full of tombs and memorials! The Abbey struck me very much as a place of memory – a museum and monuments. Incredible beauty — and very massive in size. No pictures were allowed in the main halls but we took a goodly number of shots in the cloisters and around the outside. A strange feeling to be walking over the bones of Dickens and Browning.
Read the rest of this entry »

len on October 5th, 2016

From Wikipedia —

In the context of an evolving information society, the term information ecology marks a connection between ecological ideas with the dynamics and properties of the increasingly dense, complex and important digital informational environment and has been gaining progressively wider acceptance in a growing number of disciplines. “Information ecology” often is used as metaphor, viewing the informational space as an ecosystem.

Information ecology is a science which studies the laws governing the influence of information summary on the formation and functioning of bio?systems, including that of individuals, human communities and humanity in general and on the health and psychological, physical and social well?being of the human being; and which undertakes to develop methodologies to improve the information environment (Eryomin 1998).

Information ecology also makes a connection to the concept of collective intelligence and knowledge ecology (Pór 2000)

“We define an information ecology to be a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment. In information ecologies, the spotlight is not on technology, but on human activities that are served by technology.

“A library is an information ecology. It is a place with books, magazines, tapes, films, and librarians who can help you find and use them. A library may have computers, as well as story time for two-year-olds and after-school study halls for teens. In a library, access to information for all clients of the library is a core value. This value shapes the policies around which the library is organized, including those relating to technology. A library is a place where people and technology come together in congenial relations, guided by the values of the library.”

From Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart

len on September 30th, 2016

coverThe single book I brought with me to England I read mostly on the long flights – but it was worth the read! Published by Eerdmans in 2001. The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher. Something for everyone in here, with application much wider than only academics. Anyone who teaches from the bible or who is a reflective practitioner will find value. Parker Palmer writes,

“Over the past decade a growing number of college and university professors have been reclaiming teaching as a vocation, but seminary faculty have been strangely silent on the subject. The Scope of Our Art breaks that silence with eloquence and power. I believe it will be regarded as a landmark book for years to come. This superb set of essays by some of our finest theological educators should spark a life-giving conversation about teaching and learning in the seminaries — where vocation as embodied by the faculty of today helps give shape to the vocation of ministry in the church of tomorrow.”

TOC as follows —
1. The Formation of the Scholar
2. Writing as a Spiritual Discipline
3. Reading as a Spiritual Discipline
4. Contemplation in the Midst of Chaos
5. My Vocational Kinship with the United States First Female Theologian
6. Teaching as Conversation
7. Teaching as a Ministry of Hope
8. Teaching as a Ministry of Wisdom.
9. Teaching and Learning as Ceaseless Prayer
10. On Stability in the Academic Life
11. Vocation in the Outback
12. Negotiating the Tensions of Vocation
13. The Formation of Vocation – Individual and Institutional
14. Attending to the Collective Vocation


len on August 17th, 2016