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I Invented Twitter in 1990

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Most people think Twitter began in 2006, but a form of it existed in my grade 7 classroom long before that.  I didn’t call it Twitter, I called it “Notion Notes.”

Early in my career, I was a grade seven teacher.  Besides having fun learning all that Science and English, we also did fun things for their own sake.  The kids loved it and so did I.

In it’s simplest form, a Notion Note is when students each write something on a little piece of paper, small enough it could hold more than 144 characters, and then I would read them out loud one by one.

The idea was that the students would play with words and ideas and there’d be some benefit from instant “publication.”  Very quickly a whole bunch of rituals grew around this simple activity.

  • The paper must be newsprint, symbolizing the temporality of notions.
  • When a Notion Note had been created it must be folded once and held up between the middle and fore fingers until it was collected.
  • They were read from a seated position.
  • After each notion was read, it was torn four times and sprinkled from aloft into the large garbage can, again symbolizing the temporality of a notion.
  • Once a Notion Note was turned in, it belonged to the community rather than the author–one couldn’t publically state, “That one’s mine.”
  • If a Notion caught my fancy through originality, profundity, sincerity or wit, it was deemed a “Classic” and placed ceremoniously into my breast pocket.  This is obviously correlative to the “favouriting” of Tweets.
  • At the end of the year, I would type up and post all of the classic notion notes of the year, and celebrate them.  This is obviously pretty much the same thing as “re-tweeting.”

Students got into this.  It became the goal to either get a laugh from their classmates or to get their notion note into that breast pocket and make the Classic list.  They began to have a notion note page in their binder where they’d write down possible submissions.  If they came across a quote while reading, they’d write it down.  A funny idea or humourous question they had in response to something in Social Studies got written down too.  Students also used Notion Notes as a way of disseminating famous quotes.

Notion Notes would sometimes talk directly to me, or interact with a Notion Note from the previous week.  Sometimes they’d begin to develop themes over several weeks. These are like the reply option in Twitter.

Here are some classics from 1993:

I think zits are those little bugs that crawl in your underwear at night.

This pen doesn’t work.

If pencils had erasers on both ends, we’d get better grades.

Count to 5 . . . You are not 5 seconds older.

What’s the difference between a duck?  Both of it’s legs are the same.

Author Unknown must be very talented.

Nobody notices what I do, until I don’t do it.

As the fish swims through the sea,/The bird swoops down and goes tweet.

There it was.  The first tweet, staring me right in the face.

Too bad I was too short sighted to convert Notion Notes into an app–the problem was, no one knew about apps in 1990, and I missed my chance.

Why Poland?

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 at 9:47 pm

When we told people that we were going to Poland for our holiday this summer, they invariably asked, “Poland? Why Poland?”

The main reason we wanted to go to Poland, I suppose, was because it’s in Europe. My wife, Dani, and I love Europe. We love European history and culture, so anywhere in Europe is great.

Now that we have returned from this trip, I can report that Poland is an incredible vacation destination and I am much more qualified to answer the question, “Why Poland?”

The History

WP_20160715_17_24_38_RawI found myself regularly and meaningfully interacting with Poland’s incredible history. Recalling the Tartar invasions of the 13th century, every hour on the hour we heard a trumpeter in Krakow playing the Hejnal, or Hymn to our Lady, out of the tower windows of St. Mary Basilica. Tradition has it that when the Tartars appeared on the horizon, a trumpeter sounded a warning which saved the city.  After the battle, the trumpeter was found slain by an enemy arrow. This is why, at each sounding of the Henjal, the song is interrupted mid-note, commemorating the sudden death of the trumpeter. It was awesome to even hear the trumpeter clearly through the open windows of our room just off the square (Tango House).

We also stayed at in the renovated stables, converted to a charming hotel, of 16th century Palac Stuga. On our WP_20160721_08_11_44_Rawpersonal tour of the old palace we saw the original circular wooden staircases and wall decorations, and also Renaissance additions. The palace itself suffered from Nazi and Soviet degradations, but with government grants, the proprietor hopes to restore Palac Struga to its former glory. One evening, I took a four kilometer hike through fields and forest to the ruins of the much older Cisy Castle. We also took a look at Książ Castle, which, they say, Adolf Hitler planned to make one of his residences.

WP_20160719_11_22_47_RawIt is an understatement to say that Hitler and the Nazis were a significant part of Polish history. It was probably in Poland that Nazi atrocities were the greatest. The murder of Polish Jews was essentially accomplished and the enslavement of the Polish people was well underway. Visiting Birkenau you walk among the physical remnants of an ideology that came dangerously close to conquering Europe, or more. We walked along the railroad tracks, and through the large area where people were sorted–live or die–and down the road which led to the crematoriums. We’d been to Dachau, but the scale of Auschwitz-Birkenau is overwhelming.

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Although very little of the Warsaw Ghetto wall exists, for me, the idea of the Ghetto dominated our visit to Warsaw. What shocked me was the size of the thing. The northern point of the ghetto was the train yard where, in the summer of 1942, 250,000 Jews were loaded for the 75k trip to Treblinka. From this point you can see the very tall Palace of Culture and Science, which stands at the most southern point of the Ghetto’s former boundaries–it’s a long way down there! Some neighbourhoods in this area are 15 feet higher than the streets around them. This is because they are build on top of the rubble of the Ghetto.

We went to several museums including the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Solidarity Museum, but by far the best was The Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum is probably the best narrative museum I have ever been too.

Food

I often say that the only reason I go to the historical sights is to give me something to do between meals. I love good food, and Poland has a lot of it.

WP_20160729_14_46_47_RawMilk bars have been in Poland for a long time (late 19th century). They were government subsidized canteens where workers could get a nutritious and affordable meal. Every time the Polish people found themselves in dire economic straits, bar mleczny (milk bars) flourished. It seems as if the requirement for the middle-aged women who work in the milk bars, besides hard-working efficiency, is that they speak no English. So you point to items you think you’d like to eat, and nod in the affirmative to any clarifying question they ask you in Polish. They you pay the equivalent of about $4 and enjoy your pork knuckle with mustard, beet soups and cabbage roll.

Before we left, we were told by a former resident that we’d be eating nothing but pork and cabbage. We did eat a InstagramCapture_0a5dc3e4-5b5e-43a7-9f07-94277fb849f1lot of traditional polish food, and, yes, there was always pork knuckle, neck, breaded pork steaks, but there was almost always duck and trout on every menu. There was also bigos, a cabbage and meat stew and amazing soups: zurek, which has several kinds of meat in a sour base, and tasty beet soups, served both hot and cold. But we had some incredible non-Polish meals as well, including Italian, Thai and Spanish. These meals were almost always significantly better than what I have eaten in North America.

One of my favourite things about my previous trips to Europe is the restaurant patio. The inside of restaurants WP_20160724_12_18_10_Raware empty; the seating that spills out onto streets and squares is full. This culture is alive and flourishing in Poland. Each day, we ate at least two meals and made several beverage stops in an outdoor restaurant.

If all this sounds good to you, wait till you hear about how much it costs! Poland is very inexpensive. Museums cost about $4. A B&B in the center of all the action is less than $80, and in the country closer to $50. Most of our dinners, a generous main and a beverage, were less than $30, often less than $20, for the two of us.

So that’s why I loved traveling in Poland this summer.  If you are looking for a wonderful European experience, full of history and great food, try Poland.

Why, in Africa, take-out is more expensive than eat-in.

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2016 at 9:56 pm

In Africa, Take-Out is more expensive than Eating-In.

Well, at least it is Yaoundé, Cameroon.

My wife and I had just picked up some Take-Out Sushi. We were discussing if the tipping percentage should be different for Take-Out than for Eating-In. She then recalled that she always paid more for Take-Out when she lived in Africa. I thought this peculiar, as did she when she first encountered it. But then someone explained it to her.

It has to do with the fact that with Take-Out, you are leaving the store with something extra–the container in which the food is packaged. Any of the costs associated with Eating-In is not a factor, since most of the labour is performed by a family member and the dishes can be washed and be as good as new. In the mind of the restaurants proprietors, there is a tangible sense of loss as the cardboard container walks out the door.

I just thought you should know.

A Case for Infant Baptism (2)

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2016 at 6:05 pm

I want to move from the scriptural support for the practice of infant baptism to some that is worldview related.  Mixed with these are some personal, perhaps even sentimental, considerations as to why I remain a paedobaptist.

Believer baptism puts the offer of God’s promises with the acceptance of same; infant baptism separates the offer from the acceptance.

In my mind, separation has a couple of advantages.

For one thing, applying the sign of baptism on an infant emphasizes God’s promises, rather than the individuals reception of these promises. In infant baptism, God promises–He is the agent–and the little helpless human simply receives. Every time we witness this ceremony we see again this picture of Grace.  The individual is incapable of responding to God.  They can’t reject him, can’t say thank you. There is no way that we deserve or in any way can earn the blessings of God and unity with Christ as symbolized in baptism.  The very helplessness of the recipient reinforces this idea.

This is a strange idea in our modern culture where the individual is supreme, but not so in the ancient world.   It is likely that the first century writers of the New Testament couldn’t conceive of believer baptism for they were community and family oriented, rather than individual oriented.  When they report that “households” (Acts 16:15 and again in verse 31) were baptized, they would likely be shocked that anyone could think that this didn’t involve children.  It wasn’t until the sixteenth century–the century in which the individual was born–that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

While, primarily emphasizing the actions of God, infant baptism also emphasises the nuclear family, biological or adoptive, and the church family. At an infant baptism, following the promises of God, the parents promise and the church body also make some heavy promises. The Bible is very clear that just because you are in the family, doesn’t mean that you will necessarily grow into the transformation for which circumcision is the sign, but God still has established family as the means by which God’s Word is to be taught and lived. This same principle is embodied in infant baptism.  From my position as the father, infant baptism was a daunting event. In it there is an awareness that this baptism is no guarantee that the child will receive the ultimate spiritual blessings for which it is a signifier. And that if the helpless child in your arms is to know about God’s promises, it is pretty much up to you communicate them. Standing there you become poignantly aware of the awesome responsibility that is yours to train and teach the child in your arms so that they become the individual who professes their acceptance of God’s promises.

When the parents have made their promises, the church body makes theirs–they accept the obligation to support the parents as they raise the child.  The ceremony of infant baptism emphasises the actions of God and his agents.

We are talking about two very important events in the life of a Christian–every Christian acknowledges the importance of doing something about the children of believers; every Church also recognizes the importance of the new Christian publically professing their faith in Christ. The questions is where do we put baptism? And what do we use to commemorate the other significant event?

When those who have been baptized as infants come to faith in Jesus Christ, they publically profess their faith. This is commemorated in many different ways, but this is how it went with my children. They attended a year long class where they were instructed in the foundational beliefs of the church and discipled in being a member of the Body of Christ. Then they were examined by the church leadership. During a church service, an individual who had been a significant mentor on their spiritual journey, introduced my child. She then offered their testimony, after which hands were laid on her by friends and family and she was blessed with prayer. The church service was followed by a time of fellowship with the church family and later, at home, with the extended family. This was a significant event, and it was treated at such.

Many (all?) churches that practice adult baptism alone, practice child dedication.Child dedication emphasizes primarily the actions of the parents who bring the child forward for dedication.  I have contended that infant baptism emphasize the actions of God at the baptism and believer baptism emphasizes the actions of the believer.  Those who espouse infant baptism would argue that the practice that acknowledges God as the primary agent is the preferred, and more Biblical, approach.

Who is speaking in baptism? God or the baptized? Or both? For the infant baptizers, it is clearly God–he speaks first and human beings receive (as opposed to, human beings are active and God responds to our obedience). In my tradition, the believer will have their chance to speak, but that won’t be until he or she becomes a beleiver.

In a culture where the individual is god, to baptize infants is counter-cultural.  We swim in the waters of individualism, and a ritual that focuses us on God’s action rather than our own, that focuses on the offer of Grace, rather than on our acceptance of it, is a ritual we ought to observe–if it’s scriptural.  I think that there is strong evidence infant baptism is scriptural.

I understand that there are some who do not.  This is an important issue, but it is not a foundational issue, so I can easily continue to worship in my wonderful credobaptist church.

 

The Case For Infant Baptism (1)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Lately, I’ve been having a lot conversations about baptism. Some of these have been with credobaptists who wonder about the scriptural justification for infant baptism. Some with those who were baptized as infants, but now attend a church that adheres to believer baptism, and are required to be re-baptized in order to be a member. This post is my explanation, to those who wonder, why some Christians insist that infant baptism is baptism.  This is a difficult task because, in the case of most protestant denominations who practice it, infant baptism has everything to do with “Covenantal Theology.”  This is more of an worldview, than just an interpretation of scripture, so to actually understand infant baptism, you really need to be looking through the lenses of Covenantal Theology.

Just a few terms: paedobaptists baptize children; credobaptists baptize believers.

I have no problem with credobaptism. No paedobaptist does; it is clear that the church in Acts baptized adults.  I go to a church that baptizes believers only.  It is an important issue, but it is not, as they say, a “Salvation issue.”

I believe that there is adequate historical and scriptural evidence that infant baptism was normative in the early church. I also think that baptism of infants is, today, a counter-cultural practice to which all Christians might consider returning.

The historical evidence points to infant baptism being practised in the early church. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) speaks to the universality of infant baptism saying it is  “held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”  There is only a century separating John the Apostle and the Church Father Origin, who was certainly baptized as an infant in around 180 AD.  It is reasonable to assert that the practice of baptism as performed in the earliest days of the church, was imitated in the decades that followed; they did what they saw done. By itself, historical evidence like this is not an adequate reason to accept infant baptism, but it can be used as a support to scriptural evidence.

Scripture ought to be our guideline when trying to determine who to baptize. So the question is, What do the scriptures say?

Well, this is inconclusive. There can be clarity, but to achieve it, you have to read every verse regarding baptism from a particular perspective. If you read it with one perspective, one can convincingly argue that believer baptism is scriptural; if you read it from another, then infant baptism is the way to go. Proof of this is that both credo- and paedobaptists use exactly the same texts to support their views.

Those who baptize infants start with a covenantal perspective. God deals with his people using Covenants. The mark of the Old Covenant was circumcision, carried out long before a child could make any personal response to God. Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old (Genesis 21:4). Babies born into a believing home receive this sign of the covenant, and it is clear that the faith of the parents is sufficient for the whole household, including the children. Clearly, children were a part of the Old Testament people of God.

Circumcision was a sign–it pointed to something else–a transformation of the heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16 this is referred to as the “circumcision” of the heart. We also find this language in Jeremiah (4:4). In Ezekiel 36:24-27 it’s called a new heart, a heart of flesh as opposed to one of stone.

Importantly, outward circumcision did not guarantee the inward transformation.   In Jeremiah 9:25-26 it says, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab–and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” The sign of circumcision was not simply a sign of belonging to a racial group, or even a particular religion–it was a sign of spiritual transformation. One which the recipient of the sign may or may not experience.

Paul sees circumcision in this way as well. In Romans 2:25-29, especially verses 28-29, he emphasizes that what counts is “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.” He then comments on God’s first command to Abraham to circumcise his household: “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Rom 4:11).  Paul reinforces the idea that physical circumcision is a sign for spiritual transformation. He also says that Abraham is not only the spiritual father of uncircumcised Gentile believers (4:11b), but also of “the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (4:12).  Here we see that faith precedes the sign of the covenant, but once received, the faith of the adult is sufficient for the whole household, including children.

The general pattern of scripture shows important parallels between circumcision and baptism; both are a signs of the covenant of the righteousness we receive by faith, both symbolize the righteousness that believers (like Abraham) receive by faith; both point to the cleansing and renewal of the heart, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus.   In the case of circumcision, God commanded that it be administered to Israelite baby boys at 8 days old, before anyone could tell whether God had changed or would change their hearts by his Spirit, whether he would enable them to trust his promises.  The New Testament doesn’t explicitly identify the recipients of the sign of the New Covenant.

Protestant denominations seem to agree that baptism is a sign of union with Christ, symbolizing righteousness in Christ and participation in his Death and Resurrection which can be receive only by faith.   Credobaptists argue that since baptism symbolizes grace received through faith, the recipient ought to have professed their faith before receiving the sign.   Paedobaptists say that, just like circumcision in the Old Covenant, baptism is not a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted, but a sign that it has been offered.

I believe this is the key difference between the two views, so let me say it again, for the sake of emphasis: Supporters of believer baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of infant baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith.  You don’t need to accept either view, but you must conceded that both are reasonable readings of the supporting texts.

I think that many of the credobaptist objections to infant baptism are resolved when we allow the sign of baptism to stand as a sign of God’s covenant promises (which can only be received through faith) and not a sign of the acceptance of these promises. If this point is conceded, then we ought to be baptizing babies. The question now is whether or not it is to be conceded.

I think this point ought to be conceded and here’s why: there is no scriptural reason for children to be treated differently under the New Covenant than they were treated under the Old. The Israelite children were clearly considered part of the covenant community–they received the sign of circumcision. I think it is appropriate to assume the continuity between the two covenants unless there is explicit biblical reasons not to. If the children of Christians are to be considered outside of the New Covenant community, then we would expect this significant change to be explicitly expressed in the New Testament writings. All the other ways where the New diverges from the Old is explicitly articulated. Here’s the list:

  • circumcision is no longer a requirement
  • both Jews and Greeks must be baptized
  • no more animal sacrifices
  • dietary laws no longer apply
  • temple worship is replaced by the “Spiritual Temple”

The New Testament offers no shift in the relationship of children to the covenant, moving them from inside through the covenant sign of circumcision, to outside through exclusion from the covenant sign of baptism. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, a radical change in God’s way of dealing with his people, surely there would have been some discussion, if not a major controversy, that would have been recorded in the New Testament.

Indeed, what is remarkable about the New Covenant is that it became more inclusive. Where the Old Testament sign of circumcision was restricted to males and, in general, Jews. The New Testament covenant adds women and Greeks. It seems inconsistent that the sign of the New Covenant would become less inclusive in just this one way.

In conclusion, paedobaptists would say that every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism.

There are other dimensions and arguments to infant baptism that I have not gone into because they, too, are not conclusive.

I Love Audio Books

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2016 at 1:53 am

Audible-Audiobooks-883_l_96e7ae5d2c81e2afThis past year I’ve been listening to audio books. I like listening to audio when I climb up my local mountain. I looked into Audible Books, but at $14.95USD it was too expensive. They did offer a free book if you gave them a try. Being a cheap Dutchman, I went for the grandfather of all books–War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. That’s 61 hours and 8 minutes of listening for nothing. Audible Books just got pwned! The problem is, I loved this book, seriously–I thought this book was infamous only because it was the longest book. It’s long, but it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read (listened to). I loved listening to a great reader read it to me. It was very immersive; I hardly felt that I was climbing.

This was such a delight that I thought I would keep my membership for just a few months. Just to knock off some other biggies. Books that I had started, but for one reason or other had not been able to finish: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman.

Just one more. I had seen the trailer for the movie, so I decided I’d listen to the book The Martian by Andy Weir before the movie came out.

I had always meant to read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, but I’d need more than a summer to read it, so I never picked it up. Wow, what a book, and a great performance by John Lee. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is in the top ten of almost every list of must read books, so I checked that one off.

I did some listening directly related to my work: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor and two collections of her short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge. Also, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

I have already read Tolkien’s trilogy four times, and the Hobbit at least a dozen times, but the last time was a while back, so I listened to them.

Then I listened to some religious books: The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

Most recently I finished Watership Down by Richard Adams, and I am just finishing Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

I purchased a bunch of books on a few very good sales, so i am set for a while. I look forward to another year of listening and hiking.

If you are interested in my recommendations for listening or reading, here is my list in order of awesomeness. I’ve separated Tolkien out because with Tolkien I have no objectivity.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

So here’s my list in order:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Martian by Andy Weir

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan

A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

 

A God Shaped Hole?

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2015 at 3:35 pm

WhyI admit that I wince every time I hear this phrase, but there is something here to think about it.

Everybody asks big questions at some time or another. Questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there suffering and death?” “Why bother?” Asking big questions is so common that it is often be considered a quality that is essential or structural to humanity.

Human beings ask a lot of questions and we are strongly compelled to answer them.   We cannot live without seeking answers. Seeking answers to questions asked of the material world is at the core of our sciences.   But we also ask questions beyond the material using human reason. Asking questions and compulsion to seek answers and meaning is foundational to being human.

Giussani says that if we have a hundred questions and answer ninety-nine of them, the one we can’t answer drives us crazy.  And the thing about the so called “big questions,” they are not answerable.  Hamlet quite correctly says, “There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” As we seek answers to our questions, we come to the conclusion that we can’t answer all of our questions. This is a tough situation for us. On the one hand, we have an insatiable desire to understand and on the other hand we are limited to what we can know. The tension created by the disparity between our ideals and our actualities suggests the existence of a source of ultimate fulfillment.

C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

This from Blaise Pascal in Pensées VII

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

According to Lewis and Pascal, the big questions, which seem to be foundational to human consciousness, affirm the existence of an Ultimate. We cannot answer the big questions, yet we crave and even expect an answer. This expectation suggests that there must be an Other from which we crave the affirmation of our existence that an answer would give. Giussani says that our inability to answer these questions leaves us sad, but to deny the possibility of an answer is to disconnect man from himself because the desire for answers is structural–foundational to being human. To deny the possibility of an answer is to declare everything meaningless–this leads to the opposite of sadness–despair. As Macbeth says, it would be as if life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There must be an answer; and a human being cannot live without seeking that answer. Giussani says that a human being can’t live five minutes without affirming “the existence of a ‘something’ which deep down makes living those five minutes worthwhile” (57).

The disparity between our questions and our inability to answer them leaves us sad. Denying the possibility of an answer leads us to despair.

 

Humans are Amphibians

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2015 at 5:27 am

FrogHumans beings are, as C. S. Lewis says, amphibians, “half spirit and half animal. As spirits [we] belong to the eternal world, but as animals [we] inhabit time.”

Lewis suggests that human beings experience two realities–one linked to the physical world and the other to the spiritual. Luigi Giussani (The Religious Sense 40-44) distinguishes these two realities as well, describing the first as measurable and the second is immeasurable.

The material world has the qualities of height and depth and weight and temperature–these are all measurable. To measure is to compare the whole to one of its parts. A can of Coke can be broken down into millilitres, a human body into pounds and inches. Giussani points out that by their very nature material things are can be broken down into parts. This divisibility is closely related to mutability. All material things are subject to change. If a student puts the apple on my desk on the last day of school, I will find the gift greatly altered by the following September. This holds true even if the gift was a diamond, although the time would be considerably longer for the alterations to be noticed.

As human beings, we are aware of the measurable and the mutable–it is part of our identity. We are material, or animal as Lewis says.

But we are aware of something else that is just as essentially part of us as the material elements–an immutable element. Giussani identifies idea, judgment and decision as aspects of the human individual that are unchanging, indivisible and unmeasurable. He offers an example of each:

Idea: We have an idea in our head of something we call “goodness.” When I was a child, I thought my mother good. Even after all these years, I use the same criteria to determine that my mother is still good–this idea is unchanging.

Judgement: My declaration, “This is a piece of paper” will still be true in a billion years.

Decision: The act of deciding that I like a specific person establishes forever the definition of the relationship.

These things do not change on their own, like the diamond or the apple necessarily do. The ideas, judgments and decisions endure. The decision may be wrong, I may discover the person I liked had betrayed me and now I no longer like them, but this is a new decision. Both are indivisible and unchangeable in itself.

The point of all of this is to recognize that both the measurable and the immeasurable aspects are part of the experience of our “I”.  And we should not reduce our experience to one or the other of these two realities.

The important conclusion one can draw from all this is that the animal (body) and the spiritual (soul) are not reducible to each other.


 

A Case For an Explicit Liturgy

In The Church, Uncategorized on November 18, 2014 at 4:52 am

Liturgy 1When I was in about grade 4, I was bored in church. There was a long sermon and long prayers and a whole bunch of singing and some recitation that held little meaning to me. It just kept on going and going, on and on. I remember thinking that if I knew where we were in the service, I might it would be easier to endure. Since my father was the minister, I had an in. One Saturday, I asked him if he could write out the order of events in the upcoming service. He smiled and directed my attention to the familiar bulletin. One of the pages was entitled, “Order of Worship” and beneath this was written, in order, all the elements of the service. These included “Call to Worship,” “God’s Greeting,” “The Law,” “Call to Confession,” “Prayer of Confession,” “Words of Assurance,” “Congregational Prayer,” “Offering,” “Sermon,” “Benediction” with hymns of praise, adoration, repentance and thanksgiving, in appropriate places. I had no idea that every service proceeded through the same elements each week.

The “Call to Worship” always kicked things off. A Bible passage was usually read, different every week, but they all communicated that we are sitting in church that morning, not because we decided to come, but because we responded to a call. The one who calls us to worship is none other than the Triune God. I’ve noticed that without this sense of calling, I can easily fall into the mistaken idea that my arrival signals the beginning of worship.

“God’s Greeting” — It’s his house and as a host he greets us. The weekly repetition of this element reminds us that this building is not just bricks and mortar that we assembled and pay for with weekly payments to the bank. We were drawn in by God, and he welcomes us as host–in this sense we are on holy ground. Lots of churches do the horizontal greeting, congregants to each other, but without the vertical greeting coming first, isn’t the whole experience flattened?

The “Call to Confession”: This is a weekly reminder that we are sinners and in need of forgiveness. It is followed by the “Prayer of Confession” which is an acknowledgment of this fact. The Good News is that these are followed with the “Assurance” that God forgives. The Catholics do this individually. When I was a kid, we did it collectively. Nowadays, we do this occasionally–usually with a song. Does it pass unnoticed those unfamiliar with liturgical confession.

Prayer — my new church is good at this. The church is open for prayer on some weekdays. There’s a prayer room and there is communal prayer and the elders do a lot of praying. Prayer is a strange activity, when you think about it. We are talking to someone who appears to not be there. It is an enchanted activity.

Rituals and practices effect us on a deep level–they can shape who we are. When we weekly hear God call us to worship, we begin to learn that worship doesn’t start with us. When we regularly hear God greet us, we begin to learn that we are in His house, not He in ours. When we confess our sins, and are forgiven, we learn the gospel. When we sing and pray to someone we can’t see, we believe it because we are doing it.

We don’t learn it in an intellectual sense. Very little of this occurs on a level we are aware of. Modern churches, like modern society, is very rational and emphasize knowledge and information with occasional forays into apologetics and worldview. These things are important, but our identity lives much deeper than these. Far deeper than the mind, deeper even than the heart. The Hebrew believed the soul was in the gut–that’s the level where we are shaped.

Worship services can shape us. Do you think they might be able to do so even more effectively with explicit liturgies?

This post was inspired in part by Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith. I strongly recommend it for church leaders.

 

Two Kinds of Language

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Uncategorized on June 2, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Rothfuss2I have this theory that English is two languages. Maybe all languages are two languages, but I don’t really know any language but English.  I came across a passage in Patrick Rothfuss’ novel that got me thinking that English can be used in two distinct ways.  If we are reading something that the author wrote in one language as if it were another, we’ve completely missed the author’s intent.

It seems to me that it can be a very precise language so if you want to communicate to your son exactly what you expect from him regarding the cleaning of his room before he goes outside to play, English is more than capable of communicating these clear expectations. Although your son will likely dash out the door before the tasks are completed, it is no fault of English. The precise nature of the language also makes it effective for writing encyclopedias; it is the language of the academic.  In this type of writing, the meaning lies mainly “on the line.”

But the resources of the English language can also be turned toward more poetic purposes.  There are many types of writing which taps into the elegance of the English language. Where meanings lie between the lines, or beyond the lines.   This type of writing is inferential and is able to reach far beyond the sense of the words to transcendent meanings.

I’ve presented a passage from The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss before. I love the intelligence of Rothfuss’ work. This dialogue between Kvothe and his teacher Vashet as they discuss the illusive philosophy of Lethani, illustrates the dual function of language.

 

Vashet leaned forward seriously. “Part of the problem is with your language,” she said. “Aturan is very explicit. It is very precise and direct. Our language is rich with implication, so it is easier for us to accept the existence of things that cannot be explained. The Lethani is the greatest of these.”

“Can you give me an example of one other than the Lethani?” I asked. “And please don’t say ‘blue,’ or I might go absolutely mad right here on this bench.”

She thought for a moment. “Love is such a thing. You have knowledge of what it is, but it defies careful explication.”

“Love is a subtle concept,” I admitted. “It’s elusive, like justice, but it can be defined.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Do so then, my clever student. Tell me of love.”

I thought for a quick moment, then for a long moment.

Vashet grinned. “You see how easy it will be for me to pick holes in any definition you give.”

“Love is the willingness to do anything for someone,” I said. “Even at detriment to yourself.”

“In that case,” she said. “How is love different from duty or loyalty?”

“It is also combined with a physical attraction,” I said.

“Even a mother’s love?” Vashet asked.

“Combined with an extreme fondness then,” I amended.

“And what exactly do you mean by ‘fondness’?” she asked with a maddening calm.

“It is . . .” I trailed off, racking my brain to think how I could describe love without resorting to other, equally abstract terms.

“This is the nature of love.” Vashet said. “To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad. That is what keeps poets scribbling endlessly away. If one could pin it to the paper all complete, the others would lay down their pens. But it cannot be done.”

She held up a finger. “But only a fool claims there is no such thing as love. When you see two young ones staring at each other with dewy eyes, there it is. So thick you can spread it on your bread and eat it. When you see a mother with her child, you see love. When you feel it roil in your belly, you know what it is. Even if you cannot give voice to it in words.”

Vashet made a triumphant gesture. “Thus also is the Lethani. But as it is greater, it is more difficult to point toward. That is the purpose of the questions. Asking them is like asking a young girl about the boy she fancies. Her answers may not use the word, but they reveal love or the lack of it within her heart.”

“How can my answers reveal a knowledge of the Lethani when I don’t truly know what it is?” I asked.

“You obviously understand the Lethani,” she said. “It is rooted deep inside you. Too deep for you to see. Sometimes it is the same with love.”

Vashet reached out and tapped me on the forehead. “As for this Spinning Leaf. I have heard of similar things practiced by other paths. There is no Aturan word for it that I know. It is like a Ketan for your mind. A motion you make with your thoughts, to train them.”

She made a dismissive gesture. “Either way, it is not cheating. It is a way of revealing that which is hidden in the deep waters of your mind. The fact that you found it on your own is quite remarkable.”

I nodded to her. “I bow to your wisdom, Vashet.”

“You bow to the fact that I am unarguably correct.”

She clapped her hands together. “Now, I have much to teach you. However, as you are still welted and flinching, let us forbear the Ketan. Show me your Ademic instead. I want to hear you wound my lovely language with your rough barbarian tongue.” 822-824