What is a pastor? For a long time a pastor (or a priest) was someone who helped others navigate the unseen world. A pastor lived in the space between everyday life and the forces that pressed in upon it from beyond. The world was enchanted then, it was the site where heaven and hell collided. But it is no longer. Most of us don’t believe in such forces anymore. So what is a pastor to do? Continue reading “Book Note: Andrew Root’s “The Pastor in a Secular Age””
What is the basic description of our contemporary environmental crises? From climate change to the extinction of species to air pollution to the unsustainable exploitation of non-renewable resources—what stands behind these? Norman Wirzba thinks the central issue is theological. He thinks the root of all these distressing trends it is idolatry.
He makes this case in his 2015 book From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision of Understanding and Loving Our World. The arc of the book is pretty simple: as residents of modernity we have come to see Earth as a meaningless happenstance of resources instead of as a divine gift. Wirzba writes, “Since we cannot look to God as the source of the world’s meaning, the only place to turn is to ourselves as the ones who will assign to the world whatever intelligibility or purpose it has.” The diagnosis of idolatry is not an evaluation of the world itself. Idolatry is created by the assumptions we hold not by the object behold. There is nothing idolatrous about nature, the idolatry comes through our thinking that we can manipulate nature for our own ends. Wirzba quotes Jean-Luc Marion, “‘The gaze makes the idol, not the idol the gaze.’” The modern gaze turns nature into resources, into economic potential, into unexploited wealth, or, to use a phrase of Heidegger’s, into “standing reserve.” The modern gaze places expectations upon nature that it can’t possibly bear. This is the essence of idolatry.
But is Wirzba right? And if he is right, does it matter? Continue reading “From Nature to Creation – Further Explorations in Ecotheology”
This post is the first in a series based on reading I’m doing this winter in the literature of ecotheology.
I’m not exactly sure where the eucalyptus branches came from, but there they were at the front of the sanctuary on the altar. The woman who put them there said they were to remind the congregation of Australia, eucalyptus being a common tree in that country and that particular Sunday being about the time we learned that hundreds of millions of animals had died in the fires there. In the midst of the service I found myself praying for those animals. I had never prayed such a prayer from the pulpit before. Continue reading “A Primer in Ecotheology with Celia Deane-Drummond”
My household relies on one of those old-style push lawnmowers with rotary blades and no engine. I like it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s quiet: I can mow and still talk to my kids. Second, it meets two needs at once: the lawn needs cut and I need exercise. I’ll admit that it doesn’t always do a great job when the grass gets particularly long. However, the only thing it’s cost us in the last ten years is a little bit of lapping compound (to sharpen the blades).
As I was mowing last week I was thinking about Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical letter Laudito Si (On Care for Our Common Home). Like most people, I usually think about papal documents as I cut the grass. Laudito Si has been on my to-read list for a while. I tried reading through it online a few times (available here), but because reading on a screen stinks I never finished it. Continue reading “Five Thoughts on Laudito Si”
I believe it was the ancient theologian Irenaeus who said “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Part of that celebrated state, it seems right to assume, would be satisfaction with one’s work. If that’s true then pastors are (reportedly) well-positioned to bring God buckets full of the good stuff. Apparently pastors are more satisfied with their work then just about anyone else. One survey from the US found that more than 87% of pastors were very satisfied with their work. That’s 20% better than painters and sculptors and a bit better than physical therapists and firefighters. However, knowing pastors as I do, it’s a number that I find hard to believe. It turns out that the survey didn’t actually include very many pastors—just 68. What seems more realistic is the finding of another study that suggests clergy are experiencing depression at a rate 3% higher than the general population. The disparity is even higher among men. Many pastors do find ministry to be deeply satisfying, yet even they find it to be full of anguish as well.
Just the other day I was going through some things my parents left behind after a recent visit. Stuffed next to some snacks in a paper grocery bag were several political flyers. They were the cardboard kind that you sometimes get in the mail or that a candidate’s supporters sometimes leave on your doorstep. We’ve recently had municipal elections here in Ontario, so I’ve seen a lot of these lately. Actually, just last week I received a visit from a campaign surrogate asking if I would support a particular candidate in next year’s federal election. He left a flyer too. Continue reading “Evangelical Politics”
When he was a high school student Drew Hart had begun to sense a call to ministry. For that reason, he decided to attend a private Christian college where we could major in biblical studies. Most students at the college where white. Hart was black. He had hoped that studying in a Christian context would be a positive experience. What he found, however, was that this Christian institution, like so many others, was a racialized space. The TV shows and music the majority students referenced were new to him. He sensed the discomfort of white students at his presence. He noticed their suspicion. The signs were subtle, but they were evident. White students would move to the edge of the sidewalk when he approached. Some of them referred to all black males as “thugs.” It was commonly suggested that most of the black men on campus where only there because they helped the basketball team. Continue reading “Racism, the Church and the Path of Solidarity”
I flipped open a magazine today and noticed an advertisement for a Christian university here in Canada. The ad, set against the backdrop of an artist’s hand, asks if you think a brush stroke can change the world. This particular university thinks it can (or at least their publicity department does) and wants to be at your elbow as you do. Given the criticism of this sort of modern ambition in recent theological work, I was surprised to see it from a university.
I’ve recently read James Davison Hunter’s book To Change the World. Part of the case he tries to make is that this ‘let’s change the world’ ambition is characteristic of Christian engagement with the broader culture in North America. Before seeing this ad I didn’t think his analysis applied in Canada. According to Hunter, contemporary Christians have the impression that if they can just latch onto the levers of power they can fix things. One of the results has been a politicization of the Christian life and the conclusion by many that the best way to express their hopes and values in public is to do so through the mechanisms of state power. Hunter, a Christian and professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia, thinks this is a pretty serious problem. I have a few hesitations about Hunter’s analysis but here are a few of his insights worth mulling over: Continue reading “Should We Try to Change the World?”
I’ve just completed a review essay of Jim Reimer’s book Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology: Law, Order, and Civil Society. Reimer didn’t complete the book before he died in 2010, but Paul Doerksen collected the essays Reimer was working with and published them in 2014 (Cascade). Reimer tries to do several things in the essays Doerksen collected. One of them, though, was to push back against the idea that institutions are unnecessary. We see this idea crop up in Christian anarchist circles, in some emergent conversations and in the suggestion that relationship with Jesus can somehow be distinguished from the practices of ‘religion.’ Continue reading “Do We Really Need Institutions?”