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Showing posts from 2012

questions without answers

Some days I wake up with questions floating around in my head.  This morning was one of them.  I wondered why God does not communicate more clearly.  If he is so interested in a relationship with humanity, why all the mystery?  Why does he remain so hidden?  This lack of directness means that many people misinterpret who he is or what he is saying.  Many people don't think he communicates at all and take that as an indication of his absence.  Faith in God contains a good many question marks.

Perhaps the question bubbled up because I am reading a book (fiction) about a missionary family in the Congo in the 60s who use the Bible (and their North American version of God) as a sledgehammer to force certain cultural behaviours on the Africans.  It is quite disturbing.  If God spoke more clearly and regularly about his intentions, couldn't that kind of abuse of power be avoided?  Perhaps my question stems from the fact that I live in a secular, pluralistic society where faith in th…

do we need another hero?

One of the essays I wrote for a playwriting class this term was on the concept of "hero."  This morning I read about a teacher who stood between a killer and her students and saved the lives of the young ones.  The word used to describe her was "hero."  In the face of so much bad news in the past few days, her story of bravery is being disseminated by many people who are encouraged to find hope in a dark place.  Me too.   

So what exactly is a hero?  The working definition I came up with is this:  someone who is relevant to our context (we can identify with them in some way) who exemplifies our best intentions or capabilities (we admire their courage and bravery).  In other words, heroes are examples of humanity at its finest.

Now take a look at Hebrews 11, a chapter of the New Testament filled with names of historical characters who are praised for their faith, "heroes of faith" if you will.  And in this list we find examples like the generous Abel and…

book review: Keeping the Feast

I just finished savouring Milton Brasher-Cunnningham's tasty book, Keeping the Feast.  In the preface, he identifies his "hunger to be connected" as a driving force in his life, and this does indeed seem to be the glue (or should I say, gravy) that holds the book together.  Milton connects food to fostering community and relates both of these elements to celebrating the "Meal That Matters Most," the Lord's Supper.  And he manages to do it with a light touch, making this an easy read but one that will stick with you for some time. 

Milton is a multi-talented man (chef, teacher, minister, writer, small urban farmer, and musician) and his writing reflects his varied experiences and skills.  He manages to combine a lot of good elements in this slim volume.  Like a well-crafted meal, each chapter begins with an appetizing poem, then he spends some time serving up meaty thoughts cut into bite-size stories and sprinkled with thought-provoking observations, and h…

a visit to the vet

Today was Jazz's annual trip to the vet.  It went pretty much like it always does.  She starts to moan and hiss the minute I put her in the pet carrier (we don't use the word cage). There is loud meowing throughout the 10 minute drive, her face pressed defiantly against the wire mesh door.  The minute we get into the vet's office, the demeanour changes: she gets quiet and squishes her body against the back of the carrier.  Anytime anyone comes near her, she growls.  Today a big, leggy, brown dog bounded up to her cage to say hello and he got a death-glare.  It is always this way.  Anyone, human or animal, who stops by to say hi and remark on her beauty gets the same treatment.  Growl.  Hiss.  Death-glare.  

And then it is time to go into the small examination room.  I open the traveling compartment and there appears to be no cat inside!  She has pressed herself against the side of the carrier, determined to avoid all contact with the examining table.  I hold the carrier u…

getting in the habit

I recently read that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit.  By habit I mean something that turns from an occasional activity (or a never activity) to one that you do automatically and don't argue with yourself about.  It has become part of you and your routine.  There is quite a difference in the length of time it takes to develop a habit depending on the activity. On average, drinking a daily glass of water takes only 18 days to become a habit, adapting to the loss of a limb takes about 21 days, and doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast takes more like 100 days.

Two habits that I have been doing for many, many years are working out and contemplation/prayer. I feel significantly better when I follow a workout regimen; it gives me strength, stamina, and energy.  The benefits are numerous.  If I am running late, I can sprint to catch the bus and not get winded.  I have the energy to climb up Mont-Royal and carry heavy bags of groceries up three flights of stairs.  It helps pr…

faith is a journey

The last week or so I have been reading a book that I picked up at a conference in May.  It is called Journeys of Faith (edited by Robert L. Plummer, Zondervan, 2012).  When I saw it in a pile at a publisher's booth it caught my eye because the subject matter intrigued me and the book was on sale.  How could I resist?  It has been an interesting read thus far.  The book contains essays from four different people who have migrated from one part of Christianity to another.  After more than 20 years of being a Baptist pastor, one man became an Eastern Orthodox priest.  Someone who was part of the Protestant charismatic movement switched to Catholicism.  A Catholic had an experience with God at a mid-week service and converted to evangelicalism.  A Lutheran moved to the Anglican church. 

The format of the book is inclusive and balanced.  Each of the chapters in which these men relate the story of their faith journey and explain the major differences between where they came from and …

when discouragement comes to visit

This past week was pretty hectic for me with two major presentations due one after the other.  On Wednesday I had a workshop reading of my original play which meant that I spent the last few weeks rewriting at least half of my first draft in response to feedback I received. One never knows if a play will be a cohesive, believable piece until it is workshopped.  The comments afterwards were more positive than I could have hoped for!  People said it was a solid piece with a good arc, believable dialogue, and strong characters.  There are still a few problems that need to addressed, but that's to be expected.  Overall, I was very encouraged by the response. 

On Thursday afternoon I had another presentation, this time for a performance studies seminar.  The readings in this seminar are outside of my usual genre and sometimes I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water.  So I was hoping to do well.  During the informal presentation, one person wondered why I was making these …

is this epic or what?

I am in the middle of a playwriting course. At the same time, I am teaching a series on reading the Bible as narrative.  This means that for the past few months I have been pretty immersed in studying the aspects of story.  Below are some of the gleanings from my reading, studying, writing, and teaching.  It may be a bit more scholarly and less personal than usual, but that's all part of telling stories, as I explain below.  Here goes... 

There are different ways of telling stories.  In literature one finds two categories which illustrate the opposite ends of the story spectrum.  First there is "epic."  This is an objective approach which takes a step back from the action and looks at things from a bird's eye view.  Often an epic tale incorporates a third person narrator.  In epic tales, we often find many vignettes which cover a long period of time and tell us a grand story.  The characters are subordinate to the plot.  What is important in telling an epic tale is…

beautiful moments

I did not post anything here last week, despite all my good intentions, because it was one of those times in the semester when everything piled up and it was all I could do to get my readings done, my assignments completed, my funding application sent in, a tutorial planned, host several social events in our home (Dean kept inviting people over!!!), put together a talk for our Sunday gathering, and get some sleep.  In the midst of all the craziness, there were several beautiful moments.  Let me share a few of them here.

1. I was on the metro one day and it was standing room only.  I was a bit annoyed not to get a seat because I like to sit and read, especially in the seats at the end of the car.  I was just getting over my wee bitterness when an elderly Chinese man hobbled onto the car.  A young guy immediately got out of his seat and offered it to the man, however, the old man kept peering out the subway car doors which were still open, not paying any attention to the empty seat.  T…

it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Thus begins the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  And thus began my week.  This is the time of year when many major funding applications are due for academic pursuits.  This is my third try for a federal award and the second time for a provincial one.  Last year I missed one of them by only two rankings (that means if two of the people had dropped out of the competition and gone to Morocco instead of pursuing their degrees, I would have received an award).  So, I have been writing and re-writing and editing my program of study to make it more appealing to those who dish out the money.  In essence, it has to be exciting, cutting-edge, unique, essential for life on the planet to continue, sexy, and of interest to everyone everywhere.  And it goes without saying that it has to be understandable and compelling, because the people who write the cheques are not theologians.  In other words, I am trying to write The Hunger Games of proposals.

This week, I had a meeting with so…

the stories we are part of...

I have been writing a play for the past month.  It is part of my studies that are focused on how we tell our stories.  You'd think that writing a play would be pretty simple.  Come up with two interesting characters.  Put them in a dramatic situation.  Slap down a few pages of dialogue as they work it out.  Reveal a few things about their past that makes the audience go "Ohhhhhhhh" and wrap it up nicely with the protagonist having an epiphany.  Pretty standard stuff.  Not so fast.

Characters are living things.  Even fictional ones.  And they resist one's attempts to box them in or predict where they will go.  The main character in my play is an older priest.  I am taking a bit of license with the role, but in general he is a faithful, well-respected, and honest man.  Or so I thought.  Before I had finished the first page he was exhibiting a tendency towards profanity, a lack of self-control, undercurrents of violence, and some obsessive compulsive behaviour.  Huh?  …

using God

I love books that start off with heartwarming observations on Christian spirituality and then, just when the warm fuzzies are getting really fuzzy, deliver a powerful punch to the gut.  We don't have enough of these books, in my opinion; we do have the Bible which is undoubtably punchy, but I am talking about writings from contemporary Christian thinkers.  And let me assure you that I am speaking figuratively here and not encouraging anyone to take up boxing.  I am also not talking about gut-punching just for shock value or to be provocative or to make sure the point is not forgotten.  I am referring to the ability to speak the truth plainly and simply and make no excuses for it.  I am talking about being able to clear away the rubble of our 21st century thinking so that truth can do exactly what it is meant to do: get to the heart of matter.  Here is one example of just that.

I am currently reading Eugene Peterson's book, The Jesus Way. In it he explains what it means when J…

unoriginal

This past week I had to pitch an idea for a play to my fellow writers in a Playwriting class.  It was a bit scary because all of us were putting something out there that was not fully formed, and though we were excited about it, we didn't really know if anyone else would be.  And if no one is interested to see the story or meet the characters...that's a pretty bad sign for a play.  As I was waiting to do my pitch, I got to listen to a lot of other play ideas, most of which were pretty good and some which were quite outstanding, to be honest.  One of them in particular caught my attention: it was a scenario presented by a young guy who had chosen two characters almost exactly like mine and a situation that was very similar to the one that I had typed on a paper and stuffed in my notebook.  I am pretty sure I turned a shade whiter as he described his protagonist/antagonist and the storyline. 

When it came to my turn, I made light of the fact that my ideas were so similar to my …

happy ending

I watched  a rather disturbing documentary this past weekend about a Canadian woman who climbed Mount Everest and died on the way down.  An untimely death is always sad, but I found this one particularly so.  A number of circumstances factored into the incident, especially the crowded conditions (150 climbers trying to get up the final approach in a small window of good weather), but according to the report, she died in large part because she was unprepared and unknowledgeable.  She relied more on her determination and positive attitude than on training for the ordeal.  Sources claimed that she insisted on going up against the advice of her guide who considered her inexperience a danger to herself and others.  Basically, she spent all her energy and oxygen climbing to the summit and had nothing left for the descent.

Before I judge her too harshly for lacking common sense, I must remind myself that I am very much an "in the moment" person and don't always think things th…

learning to learn

The school term has started with a bang.  I am armpit-deep in scripts, playwriting texts, performance theory, and theology basics.  I am taking courses in the theatre department this semester and it is humbling and stimulating at the same time: humbling because I am pretty much the most theatrically-illiterate person in all my classes and stimulating because theatre (which is basically showing instead of telling) is inherently incarnational. 

I read Shakespeare's Hamlet yesterday; it is quite a different experience to see a character act out revenge than to read a philosophical, psychological, or theological exposition on the desire for justice through retribution.  When I see something "in the flesh," I seem to comprehend it at a much deeper level and to more complex and nuanced degree.  It gets inside me, to some extent, if I let it.  As Hamlet indicates, a play has the potential to capture our consciences, to prick our hearts, and to show us things that reason simpl…

Scotland day 8 (end of trip)

We drove into Edinburgh just before noon on Saturday, parked near the airport and caught a bus downtown.  We had been told that navigating and parking can be troublesome in UK cities, especially in summer, so we opted for finding our way into the city via the top deck of a double-decker bus.  We stepped off near Edinburgh Castle and were immediately surrounded by a large park, bustling shops, throngs of tourists, and Starbucks.

After gawking at Edinburgh Castle for awhile, we sauntered around the park, slowed down to listen at a music stage, then headed up the hill to High Street.  It really is high, you know.  The first thing we encountered once we reached High Street was (you guessed it) a bagpiper, this time with a drummer.  A really funky combination!  We spent the afternoon walking from Edinburgh Castle (we didn't have time to go in, but we saw the police dogs sniffing around the stands for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which were situated right in front of the castle and th…