Wednesday, November 30, 2011

it's a mad mad mad world (of theology)


The mad dash for the end of term has begun.  I have finished all my required readings and have jumped into research reading.  One of my papers is on the madness of theology (the correlation seems more obvious to some of us than to others).  Truly inspiring stuff, I am finding.  Let me share a few quotes here:

There is a certain madness in Christianity – in a desert God who is jealous and passionate, in a saviour who speaks in apocalyptic terms, in a life of sacrificial love, in the scandal of particularity.  In principle, a confessional theology should bear the mark of this madness, but the mark or wound must constantly be renewed. - Walter Lowe, "Postmodern Theology" in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 2007.

 “In the Scriptures the odd phenomena constituting the ‘Kingdom of God’ are the offspring of the shock that is delivered by the name of God to what is there called the ‘world,’ resulting in what I call a ‘sacred anarchy.’  Consider but a sampling of its more salient features.  In the Kingdom, the last are first and first are last, a strategically perverted system of privileging, so that the advantage is given not to beautiful Athenian bodies that house a love of wisdom, but to lepers, deaf mutes, the blind, epileptics, and the paralyzed.  The favor of the Kingdom falls not on men of practical wisdom, of arĂȘte, of experts in phronesis, but on tax collectors and prostitutes, who enjoy preferential treatment over the upright and well behaved.  In addition, in the Kingdom the way to be arrayed with all the glory of God is to neither sow nor reap but to behave like the lilies of the field.”  - John D. Caputo, After the Death of God, 2007. 

Perhaps to no one's surprise, I am utterly captivated by these notions of embracing sacred anarchy,  hospitality in excess, and a certain chaos when dealing with the things of God. It just seems obvious to me that God should never make total sense or perhaps in more precise terms, be subject to human reason.  I am most blessed if thinking about God and calling out to God and reaching out tenuously for a divine/human encounter always put me just a bit off-balance and leave me more mystified than before.  It is a grand, wondrous place to be!

the photo:  having fun with an orange.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

shameless celebration


Yesterday, I received my Master of Arts degree at the fall convocation of Concordia University.  It was a fun day and a nice break from my ongoing doctoral studies and work.  I love a good ceremony, especially one with a lot of colour, action, and some bagpipes!  Plus, I got to wear a costume!  Today it was back to work.  I spent most of the day grading, took an hour or two to cram in some reading for tonight's class, spent a few hours discussing postliberalism and postmodernity with a prof and some grad students in my evening class, then came home to finish this week's grading.  The tasks for the day are now done and it is 10:21 pm.  

I know how to work.  I can get things done.  As a graduate student, the list of things that one must and should and could do are never-ending.  It can easily overwhelm me if I am not careful.  Working seems very responsible (that would be my Anabaptist roots talking).  Celebration sometimes not so much.  However, the God of the Hebrews insisted on celebration as part of the rhythm of life.  And sometimes, it would go on longer than expected, as in the case of the week-long party after the temple was built that stretched on for another week because it was just sooo good and no one wanted to go home! (see I Kings 8)

I am happy to say that I am getting better at celebrating without shame.  Without feeling a twinge of guilt about the work still undone.  Without feeling slightly uncomfortable about extravagances given and received.  Without diminishing the beauty and joy of a moment that is special to me and to others.  Without shame or self-consciousness about being the centre of attention for a few seconds.  Without feeling fat or old or tired or not as statuesque as the next person.  Without entertaining worrying thoughts about the future.  Without apology or justification.

Just celebration.  Pure and simple.  It's important to God.  And it is becoming more important to me, too.

the photo:  my personal photographer for the day, Awa, who understands celebration better than most, I dare say.  Photo credit to Dean, who generously took the day off to be with me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

with


I am nearing the end of the my first term as a PhD student.  So far, so good.  The reading load is a bit hectic (as it is supposed to be because doctoral students are expected to have cast iron brains that can digest large quantities of any sort of printed matter).  My job as a teaching assistant in the theatre department is demanding (3 hours in-class assistance and 8 hours of grading per week), but a nice break from the heavy thinking of theology.  Plus, the theatre classroom is a friendly and invigorating environment (except on Halloween when Death sat in the 4th row and kinda freaked me out a bit). 

Thus far, I have written 2 official reading reports, composed about 30 pages of notes on various readings, presented 6 summaries of readings, and taught a masters' class.  I still have another reading report and 2 major papers to write (slightly panicking) on 1) the task of theology after modernism and 2) something about narrative theology.  These last assignments need to happen in the next few weeks which means even more reading and then sitting at my computer trying to sort all the random bits of information into coherent, brilliant, never-been-written-before thoughts. 

In the midst of all this, my connection with God has started to feel a bit thready.  Like a pulse that is there, but not quite the consistent boom ba-boom that one wants to hear.  I think part of the reason for this is that I have neglected the primacy of "with."  Having a lot of demands put on you intellectually means that you start to develop some competency and reach a certain comfort level with the various challenges and tasks tossed your way.  That's good.  As a result, I am not turning my thoughts to God as often to say "Help!" or "I need you!"  That's okay, too.  But I never want to forget that all of these projects and writing assignments take on a whole other dimension and depth when I invite God to do them "with" me.  Or perhaps more accurately, he is the one inviting me to do them "with" him. 

I often think of something one of my professors said in the first class I took when I started my graduate studies.  She noted that the story of Genesis is different from all the other creation stories that were circulating in the pagan world at the time because it speaks of a God who wants to do projects "with" his creation, not just rule over them.  And this is where I want to be more often:  in the "withness," working together "with" Someone who always enlarges my experience and my work.  He not only adds insight, but makes the journey less lonely, less overwhelming, more enjoyable, and always worthwhile.  And on numerous occasions, he also inserts the opportunity for transformation if I will stop for a bit and let it in.

Every day, let my prayer be:  God, can we do this day together?

the photo:  some of the white fluffy seedlings behind my condo that will no doubt yield something next spring.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

lesson from the microwave


I was over at a friend's house yesterday and he was heating some apple cider in the microwave.  I noticed that he did not use a cup, but a large plastic container with a thin layer of cider at the bottom.  He commented that he had heard this method provided better heat distribution and therefore, heated the food faster.  I cannot verify or deny this theory for microwaves, but I know it is true of cooking in general. Thin slabs of cookie dough will cook faster than thick mounds.  Thick steaks take longer on the barbeque than thin ones. The more surface area one presents to the heat and the less dense the food is, the more efficient the change from raw to cooked, from cold to hot.

This concept started me thinking and strangely enough, the picture that came into my mind was that of someone lying prostrate on the floor in prayer, making themselves thin and spread out, not all bunched up and rigid.  The more areas of my life I present to God and make available to him, the more I will be changed.  The less dense and rigid I am, the quicker I can respond to the Spirit.  The more of my life I get on the surface, the more his hot love can transform it.

Let me get down low, flat, humble.  Let me present a large surface area for God to interact with me.  Let me say yes to his blazing fire of tranforming love. 

the photo:  a latte at a local cafe.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

choice

I have some friends who are facing difficult seasons in their lives.  One of them has a husband with cancer.  Another has a wife with cancer.  Two of my friends recently lost their jobs.  These are all scenarios we would rather not find ourselves in.  We would never choose them.  And yet, there are people who do choose the hard way.  A book I am currently reading about a nun who has mystical experiences tells about women in a convent who desire to share in Christ's sufferings.  If you read the writings of faithful and godly people like St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich you will find this theme as well.  They request pain and affliction in order to be closer to Jesus.  We really have no concept of that in our comfort-driven, pain-avoiding culture.  We do not consider it an honour to suffer.  

I had a dream a few days ago in which I conversed with some of my friends who are in seasons of discomfort.  We talked about the things that God chooses for us versus the things we choose for ourselves, and how the two are not always the same.  I remember saying something similar to these words in the dream:  "Whatever God chooses for you, embrace it.  Let his choices for our lives become our choices in life.  Then we are making space for something really significant to happen." 

I don't want to fight against what God has chosen to bring into my life.  He promised suffering.  Why do I resist it?  He promised challenges.  Why do I cower in the face of them?  He promised to always be with me.  Why do I turn away from his nearness?

Today, let me choose what Jesus chooses.

the photo:  several planes of images at St. Joseph's Oratory:  reflected stained glass, ironwork, a glass door, and my hands.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

free (for me)


Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love getting free samples of hair products, free tastings at a frozen yogurt bar, free admission to an art gallery, free rides, a free meal, free parks, a free t-shirt, free movies, free wifi, free rent for a month, and free healthcare.  But is it really free?  Free (for me) just means that someone else is picking up the tab.  It always costs someone something.

Those free tastings at the yogurt place are paid for by the store (and must be made up in the price of their product).  Free admission to the art gallery and well-kept parks are paid for by taxes from the hard-working folks in the city and province (who incidentally get no say in how high their taxes are or exactly where the monies go).  Free wifi is paid for by the subscriber who is generous enough to share their access.  Free rent just means that someone else is paying the mortgage.  A free ride means that the driver (or his company) is the one paying for the gas and vehicle maintenance. Free healthcare just means that our taxes are much higher, the companies we work for have to contribute their share, and everyone's pay cheques are a bit lower.  Free (for me) really means that I have escaped having to pay for something that has a real cost; I have made someone else responsible for it.  And if I am always looking for free stuff and never willing to be the one paying for it...well, that's a problem. No healthy community or city or world can operate that way.

I am not trying to take the fun out of getting free stuff.  Yes, gifts are meant to be given and received with joy, but it is naive and ignorant of me not to recognise that what is free for me is costing someone else something.  I find that I appreciate "free stuff" more when I am aware of the cost involved for others.  I become more grateful and less likely to overindulge or engage in a "free feeding frenzy."  

Other things freely offered to us have significant cost, too.  When someone invites me into their home, they are trusting me with their largest investment (and usually taking responsibility for refreshments and cleaning).  When someone forgives a debt or a wrong, they have taken on the cost of my mistake.  When someone loves me, they give me their time, they share their resources, they show me themselves. 

I enjoy a lot of "free stuff" in my life.  May I never take the cost for granted. 

We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5, The Message)

You have received freely, so freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

The photo:  piano in a bistro in old Montreal.  There was a basket for donations on the windowsill.