Friday, August 28, 2009

Stop What?

It is time for a little Friday photo fun. This is a shot I took along the seawall in Vancouver. The obvious question is "What?"

Thursday, August 27, 2009


"And you had nothing to say about it and yet made the nothing up into words."
—The Lady, to Ransom, in Perelandra by C.S. Lewis.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Connecting to the Material World

Ian Barns notes that our technologies are not spiritually neutral tools. Rather,
as we use them (either for good or for ill) we are drawn more deeply into a particular way of being in the world which shapes the kinds of people we are, the sorts of relationships we have, and also the way we conceive of and experience God.*

As we are drawn into a world of technological devices which offer us greater power, mobility, security, and convenience and their associated ‘mentality’ of instrumentalism, we become more and more disconnected from the ‘eloquence’ of the material world around us. Eloquent ‘things’ become disposable commodities. The example [Borgmann] gives is that of the hearth being replaced by the gas heater. A gas heater ‘disburdens’ us from the labour of collecting the wood, etc. and disconnects us from those practises through which we engage with the reality of nature, place and community.#

The consumerism of our world constantly works against the eloquence of the material world. Walking, bicycling, and public transit bring us closer to nature and relationships than driving by car. Walking to the market, buying fresh, locally grown produce, cooking it in our own kitchen, eating off of real dishes and cutlery, and washing them up in the sink connects us to the land, nature, and community in ways that a quick burger at the local fast food place never could do. I have many possibilities before me. Some of the choices take sacrifice. What will I choose?

*Ian Barns, “Living Christianly in a Technological World,” research paper (photocopy), p. 2, Photocopy Collections, INDS 582, Connecting and Relating, David Lyon, Regent College Library, Regent College, Vancouver.
#Ibid, p. 11.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Sparrow

Mary Doriah Russell is a Jewish author who has written The Sparrow and Children of God. The two books are very enjoyable reading that I would classify as philosophical science fiction. The stories are set in the future and deal with first contact between humans and intelligent beings from another planet but the main themes have to do with faith and world-views. They ask questions about what happens when two different cultures meet for the first time; which culture prevails; and does the other culture get subjugated. In the reader's guide to The Sparrow she says something interesting about "religion."
Writing The Sparrow allowed me to look at the place of religion in the lives of many people and to weigh the risks and the beauties of religious belief from the comfort of my own home. . . . The beauty of religion is the way in which it enriches your understanding of what your senses tell you. . . . The risks have to do with believing that God micromanages the world, and with seeing what may be simply coincidences as significant and indicative of divine providence. It’s very easy then to go out on a limb spiritually, expect more from God than you have a right to expect, and set yourself up for bitter disappointment in his silence and lack of action.*
Russell has indeed hit upon an important tension with which we must struggle. How much does God intervene in the day-to-day lives of people? How much does His divine providence affect an individual's life? I would agree that we dare not "expect more from God than [we] have a right to expect." But how much can we expect from God? In the passage we studied at our house-church gathering Sunday night, "Jesus said to the disciples, 'Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, 'May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and it will happen'" (Mark 11:22-23 NLT). That passage assumes a good and divine reason for the mountain to be moved into the sea. Jesus was not suggesting that God will remodel His creation simply because a mountain is blocking our view. But it does suggest that the bounds of what we can expect from God in situations that serve His divine providence are much more than we might first expect. As I struggle with this tension and seek to be realistic in what I see as miracles in our world, I choose to live with high expectancy of what God can and will do through the prayers of his people.

*Mary Doriah Russell, The Sparrow. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1996), 412 (Reader’s Guide).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Science and Evolution

Having a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology and a Bachelor of Religious Education, I am always interested in the relationship between science and faith. Thus I found these words by Mark Noll interesting and worth our consideration.
Some evangelical Christians have trouble reconciling evolution and a traditional belief in God as creator and sustainer of the world, but I do not. Within the evangelical tribe, I belong to the Calvinist wing, where a long history exists of accepting that God speaks to humans through "two books" (Scripture and nature), and since there is but one author of the two books, there is in principle no real conflict possible between what humans learn from solidly grounded science and solidly grounded study of the Bible. Of course, if "evolution" is taken to mean a grand philosophical Explanation of Everything based upon Pure Chance, then I don't believe it at all. But as a scientific proposal for how species develop through natural selection, I say let the scientists who know what they are doing use their expertise and whatever theories help to find out as much as they can. On the Bible side, I do not think it is necessary to read everything in early Genesis as if it were written by a fact-checker at the New York Times. But as a persuasive basis for believing 1) that God made the original world stuff, 2) that he providentially sustains all natural processes, and 3) that he used a special act of creation (perhaps out of nothing, perhaps from apelike ancestors) to make humans in his own image, the Bible is not threatened by responsible scientific investigations.
As a historian I am impressed by words of 19th-century conservative Presbyterian, Benjamin B. Warfield: "if we condition the theory [of evolution] by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force ... we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense." These words still hold true today.*
Other than his classification of himself as a Calvinist, I can agree with everything else in this quote. It is encouraging to find others who express a strong faith in Jesus and also see the value of scientific investigation.

*; Mark Noll is professor of Christian thought in the History Department at Wheaton College, Illinois. He is the author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995) and of A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1994).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reflections on a Triathlon

Last Sunday morning I participated in the Lake Chaparral Triathlon in Calgary, AB. A friend named Kent and I were a team in this relay style event (Team K2). I swam the 1.5 km swim portion and then jumped on a bike and rode the 40 km cycling section before passing my timing chip to Kent who finished up with a 10 km run. We finished in 2 hours, 53 minutes which achieved our goal of completing it in less than 3 hours. Simon Whitfield, Canada's best tri-athlete, won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics doing these same distances in 1 hour, 49 minutes. But who's comparing?
This event was a warm-up for me. On September 7 I plan to do the Vancouver Triathlon as a solo competitor and I think I can still finish in under 3 hours. We will see.
I do not compete in triathlons to beat other people and win a prize but I do compete. I compete against myself. I compete against my previous time, and I compete against my stubborn lazy will.
Physical fitness takes serious discipline. When I started training I did not have the ability to propel myself 51.5 km by swimming, biking, and running. Running 3.5 km made my side ache and my lungs burn. But 5 or 6 days a week I got up out of bed in enough time to do just a little bit more than I had the day before. Muscles began to grow and get stronger. Soon I was able to run 5 km without too much pain and then 10 km.
I am competing against my stubborn lazy will in other ways as well. I seek to have mental, emotional and spiritual discipline in my life. These also require serious training. I wasn't born with all the knowledge of the world. I don't always have the right emotional temperament. I can't start as a spiritual giant. I will not achieve Olympic status in any of these. But I can get up and do just a little bit more than I did the day before. I can compete against myself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dreams and Empire

Lasn likens life in what he calls America™ to life in a cult in which "we have been recruited into roles and behavior patterns we did not consciously choose.” Does the child who sits in front of a television set for three to four hours a day, shops at the mall with her parents, goes to school and recites the Pledge of Allegiance, plays computer games, listens to her president encouraging everyone to go out shopping in order to defeat terrorism, wears clothes from the Gap, and plays with the toys created out of the imagination of Disney and Hollywood, ever actually choose the American way of life? Did she go through a ritual of initiation beyond getting her first Barbie? Was there a moment of conversion in her life when the American dream became her dream? No. She imbibed this mono culture consumerist dream in the fast food she ate, the polluted air she breathed and the visual culture she inhabited. And so she was converted, made into a cult member, before she ever knew what was happening. Lasn points out that "dreams, by definition, are supposed to be unique and imaginative. Yet the bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream. It's a dream of wealth, power, fame, plenty of sex and exciting recreational opportunities." When a whole population dreams the same dream, empire is triumphant.*

*Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004), 171.