Thursday, September 27, 2007

How do you say that in…


I am reading a book for my anthropology class by Angela Robinson. She has written an ethnography on the Mi’kmaq or Nova Scotia. Bored yet?
Actually her work focused on religion: the affects of European religion (namely Catholic) on this indigenous people way of life and their own religious perspectives. What she encounters is actually quite fascinating…
She describes how language affects the way we perceive our world. The very words we use can affect how we interact with the basic elements of life. English is a noun based language whereas Mi’kmaw is a verb based language. And this has some very interesting implications for religious understanding. She quotes a Mi’kmaw linguist who suggests the important aspects of the difference in this area, “the language is not capable of seeing the world and the universe as any other way except as being in constant flux. So, it would be difficult to pin down any particular dogma and expect Mi’kmaw people to follow it to the letter a thousand years from now. A concept of ‘god’ in Mi’kmaw culture and language is also not stationary. In fact the words, or many of them that we have for ‘god’ are all verbs.”
So what would that mean if God was referred to using verbs instead of nouns?
English Christianity is famous for developing complex doctrinal positions and theological systems. All of that would be very different (if they would exist at all) if the way we referred to God was in verb form. Personally, I have a hard time even thinking about how you would do that. You know what a sentence using the idea of God as a verb would look like in English.
One of the things that I got to thinking about was how we often complain that we have put God in a box and that we need to re-evaluate how we think about God. Well maybe this problem would not exist in the same way if we didn’t have to use a noun to talk about God. Nouns seem more measurable, quantifiable I guess. Verbs seem to indicate flux, action, or movement. I don’t know stuff to think about I guess…

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Exceptional Locals


There is a term in anthropology that describes people who are encountered – typically – early on in the ethnographic field work. These are the people who seem to engage with the anthropologist early but tend to be regarded as existing on the fringe of the social and cultural framework. This was a fascinating terms since I immediately recognized a similar concept (although rarely identified) in ministry contexts.
There have been numerous times when I have seen pastors succumb to the influences of the exceptional locals in the congregation that they enter or begin to minister in. This typically, in my experience has led to significant difficulty in validity of their work as pastors in that context – sometimes it has even caused them to leave. This is a tricky concept to understand in a ministry concept but one that I think gets overlooked because we may have the wrong approach to ministry positions in general.
Many of us who have been in ministry could identify the exceptional locals who present themselves – often asking (indirectly) for loyalty from us. It is difficult to deny these people access to our time and resources because we are in a helping role and are morally responsible for the well being of all of our parishioners. What is also true is that these people are rarely an accurate demonstration of what the general culture or social framework of the whole church is. So taking up the causes of these individuals can lead to focusing in the wrong direction. Building alliances can easily lead to conflict since these people are typically not well attached to the networks of people who form the general culture of the church. But since our approach to ministry is the work of caring we can often miss these important signals about where each church needs direction and leadership.
If instead we were to understand ministry positions as more of an anthropological endeavor we could, I believe, make greater strides in effective ministry that could last a long time. Even suggesting that a minister exist as a 'member' or adherent of a particular context before beginning his/her ministry would be beneficial in gaining a sense of how the whole congregation could be ministered to effectively. Unfortunately we are so program oriented that we demand our ministers to begin the work of caring and leading as soon as they start receiving a paycheck. Too bad really. I know of a few people who have intentionally gone about this approach at the same time as trying to fulfill their expected duties to provide programming and care. These are no less than magicians if you ask me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I was right.


I think.
The most valuable tool that we can give adolescents as they grow is the ability to value questions. More specifically, it is crucial that we focus not on giving them the information that will guide their lives but the appropriate tools to accommodate the knowledge they will acquire throughout their lives. This is especially true with regard to any spiritual training we seek to engage in.
In my classes already I have noticed a systematic, both subtle and overt, rejection of Christianity as viable in comparison to scientific understanding. Rejection of spirituality in general has been strong but Christianity has suffered more derision. I think this is due to the fact that Christianity, in general, is perceived to be rigid – portraying itself to be infallible and dogmatic. This is especially true since I am taking mostly courses in the humanities – I think.
As an aside: I wonder if the reason some of the humanities seem to be railing against Christianity is due to their own feelings of illegitimacy within the intellectual pursuits of academia. Almost like, “At least we are not so na├»ve as those Christians who believe in superstitions.”
The attack on Christian belief has been ardent. And I can imagine that students who adhere to ‘the faith’ might find themselves struggling with the often black-and-white nature of the faith they have been given to adopt. And I suspect the hand wringing at the local Christian women’s league is duly justified when they hear of little Tommy or Cindy losing their way spiritually due to the big bad world of university. This only serves to heighten the fear factor that motivates most Christian churches to concentrate their education with filling their children with information.
Instead over the last few years I have been convinced that far more important than giving children and adolescents the information of faith (quantity), they need to be given the tools with which to engage in the discovery of the mystery of faith. My experience in the first few days of university seems to quantify my convictions.
As a result I think a shift needs to happen. A) We need to work extremely hard to allow wonder to be a central part of our programming. We need to establish a safe place where kids can feel free to discover and test ideas about faith without being rushed, accused or pacified. B) We need to actively teach spiritual methodology. We need to foster the ability to debate important theological and doctrinal issues within the context of a loving community. We need to build the tools like discovery, research, literary criticism, historical contextualization, and original languages way earlier in the process of spiritual pedagogy. Along side that, we need to convey to kids, the disciplines and mystical practices that lead to revelation and affirmation of truth. C) Above all we need to help make these things priorities for parents to practice with their kids.
I remember hearing the alarm from one of our Bible College personnel regarding how terribly illiterate kids were about the Bible as they entered Bible College. It seemed alarming at the time that churches did not seem to be doing a good enough job of downloading the contents of the Scriptures into the minds of children in such a way as to be able to spew it out on command. And it’s probably true that local churches have become lax in their approach to Christian education. But I think that target outcome is skewed as well. I think we miss the mark if we aim to give kids all the information about faith without the tools to really appropriate it personally and practically in the context of real life.
So when we give room for open and careful discussion. When we wander away from the script and play in the margins while honoring the narrative of the text - we do a more honest job of conveying real faith than if we do it the way it has been done for years. And when professors and teachers and pastors take seriously their role as disciplemakers you end up with students who can lean on the learning passed on to them. So thank-you Gil, Mark, Ryan, Jeff, Andre, Gord, Mike, Paul, James, and Mom and Dad for being just that sort of person…

Monday, September 10, 2007

School boy


For those of you who care and actually stop this e-rag:
-I am really enjoying my classes
-they are stimulating and very much ‘up my alley’…
-my legs have turned to jelly from the 500 plus stairs and excessive kms required to get to and from class each day.
My first day jitters are mostly subsided and I have started to relax with my MUCH younger classmates.
I am taking mostly introductory courses in: sociology (stuff I am very familiar with from previous experience); anthropology (likely the class I enjoy the most – good prof. – engaging and succinct); Spanish (I got bumped up into the intermediate level course after taking the advanced placement test and scoring well enough to get in. The Ms. Housley spoke mostly in Spanish all class – very cool almost like a breath of fresh air. Kids are pretty reluctant to speak in class. I might even have a slight advantage in this class.); Philosophy (this is a freak show of a class. The prof is a distractible tangent loving blabberer who has already got into trouble with a few students for straying from the outline of the course. We’ve spent the last two classes talking about the Bible (might post more about this)
Psych is tomorrow night – so we’ll see…
No essays, just multiple guess exams and a lot of them. Oh yeah some short answer in Philosophy…
It is all good. I like it and my legs will just have to get used to it…

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

here's something to chew on...

Emile Durkheim decides to figure out if you can apply sociological factors to suicide. This was a revolutionary approach in his day. Of course today we understand that suicide is affect by many various factors in society but essential suicide is still considered an essentially private act of an individual often acting in isolation. Durkheim confronted the notion that suicide was essentially a psychological disfuntion in the individual. He figured that if that notion was correct he should find that people with psychological problems should be the group of people where suicide occured most often. The data simply could not support that assumption instead the data revealed that the groups of people where suicide was most prevalent were: unmarried people, Protestants (as opposed to Catholics), and men.
Based on his findings he concluded that the social factor that most affected suicide was social solidarity - the connectedness of the people with a social group.
Not sure if you noticed it but Protestants were in that top three. Durkheim said the difference between Catholics and Protestants was how the nature of their faith expression played out in communal connectivity. Catholics he suggested were more communal and their ritualistic approaches to religion kept a social contract in place. Protestants whose faith focus was on the individuals connection to God (you know personal saviour and all that), didn't seem to achieve the same social contract within thier religious expression.
I think makes for some very interesting questions for practical theology in the area of soteriology and an understanding of the nature of the church.

What has affected us the most?

Our Sociology prof asked us to do this little assignment that got me thinking.
Here's the question she posed:
What are the five most significant developments that have occurred during your lifetime. (The development can have happened in any field: technology, historical events, attitudes, consumption, education, politics etc.) These should be developments or events of social, not personal, significance. And rank them in importance...
Here's where I started:
1. Advent of the personal computer, cell phones, etc.
2. US foreign policy
3. The cultural impact of entertainment – Hollywood,
4. Affects of the baby boom on generational dynamics including: employment, economy, education, opportunity, morality, etc.
5. Affect of the Oil/Gas Industry on mobility, wealth, transportation, technology, etc.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The road


...comes to meet you from a long way off. It’s not pretentious like the traffic laden expressways of southern Ontario or conniving like the mountain switchbacks of BC. You can actually see the patch of asphalt you’ll travel a good 5 or 6 minutes before you get there. There is something reassuring about that.
“Boring,” most would say as we whir by the undulating landscape.
To be sure it is quite forgettable. Not a length of the long ribbon of highway stands out over the other save the meager remnants of human activity in far too occasional hamlet. I say, “far too occasional” precisely because the human desire to excrete waste in a private smelling room – aka a service station washroom – increases in frequency the more children you add to your journey.
There’s Moosomin, Broadview, Grenfell (where you should really watch out for the cops), Wolseley, Sintaluta, and Indian Head. Then there’s Balgonie, White City and then Regina. You’ve got Moose Jaw, Caronport (where you should really stop for gas cause it’s cheaper), Mortlach, Parkbeg, and Secretan (my Grandpa always used to make fun of this town cause he put made the second “e” a long sound so it sounded like secreting). There’s Valjean and Chaplin (look for the white salt sands and the stench of a thousand rotten eggs in your vehicle). And then after that you’re in Uren – he he! Herbert and Waldeck, and Swift Current, then Gull Lake and Piapot (which is a lying son of a b#$% of a town that promises all services 23 kms out and then as it turns out does not even exist. My bowels hold a terrible rage against that town. I had needs that Pee – A – Pot never satisfied.). You pass Maple Creek and you’re done. Its all actually quite painless.
That stretch of highway has carried my carcass over and over again without so much as a whimper. Although, thanks to the lackadaisical attitude toward infrastructure of the Saskatchewan government, my carcASS has whimpered from time to time.
It’s a shame really that you can pass through the mighty prairies with so little ado. Yeah that’s right I said, ‘mighty’. I know that word is reserved for the mountains – but really how mighty are they. They sit there like mossy covered behemoths that beg us to ogle over the parts of them that they choose to keep unclothed with trees or snow. But the prairies, now there is power. The electric earth pulsating food to life – and death – in a fabulous self sacrificing placidity. Unimposing, avoiding the spotlight save to let you catch the deep breath of the open sky. And horizon to horizon you breath in your own smallness – and the tender care this land takes to give you that breath. The breath that you can lose yourself in - your thoughts chasing each other like voracious dragonflies chasing mosquitoes in a wheat field low spot. And you grip the steering wheel and wonder what you’re missing.
You know I winced each time I dumped fuel into my ASStro. I hate that gas sucking pig – but it serves my family well. It drank a whole 70 liters worth of fuel from Caronport to Moosomin (2.5 hours of driving). I spent a shocking amount of money on fuel. It made me mad. I’m still mad. But I realized something.
I got a pretty amazing show for the cash. Barley, Timothy, and Rapeseed, a million bugs lost their lives on my hood. A coyote, and a stallion making colts, and an inexplicable connection to this land – this humble forgettable, powerful land.