Friday, 26 October 2012

Practicum

This is a picture of me and two of the immigrants I helped teach English to this week. The smiling one wrote us a really nice letter thanking us for teaching them the words "brew coffee" and "sneeze" and also thanking our parents for "gave good direction about your life ladies." That is, "for helping the people that doesn't have education." The other one is a seventy-three year old refugee from one of the "bad" countries of the world. He barely survived the place, and could reasonably be quite bitter about it. Instead, he goes to school and photobombs people's pictures.
It was a good week.

"What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person. I am grateful every day that I have you, and that makes me happy." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, 22 October 2012

Beware the Heresy

I've kind of gotten the sense that people in Biblical studies tend to think their choice of major is  superior to theology. Well, probably superior to anything, but in particular, superior to theology. Theology is like the wayward cousin of Biblical studies - well-intentioned but misguided.

People in Biblical studies do, in fact, have an advantage over people in theology in certain circumstances. For example, suppose that two students are in a trivia game show:

Host: Please describe the process in the book of Numbers by which a woman suspected of adultery would be tried when there was no eyewitness evidence.

Theology student: Uh....

Biblical Studies student: Well, first they'd cart her off to the priest and give the priest some barley. Then the priest would put holy water in a jug, stick some dust in the water, and tell the woman to let her hair loose and the woman would hold on to the barley while the priest would have the woman swear that she didn't sleep with any guy but her husband and the priest would curse her so that her thighs would waste away and her abdomen swell up big-

Host: That's fi-

Biblical Studies student: -but he'd stick a disclaimer in there so that if she actually hadn't been sleeping around, then the curse wouldn't stick. And the woman would agree to it all, and the priest would write the curse on a scroll and then wash the ink into the dusty water and make her drink the water. And then he'd take the barley from the woman and burn some of it on the altar. Did I mention it had to be exactly one-tenth of an ephah of barley for the procedure?

Theology student: Did you memorize the book of Numbers?

Biblical Studies student: I was in quizzing as a kid.

Bible student, score one. Theology student, zip.

Knowing what the Bible says comes in pretty handy in a large variety of contexts.

But contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, theology is actually the Siamese twin of Biblical studies and not the wayward cousin. If you try to have either theology or Biblical studies without the other, you'll end up with a shriveled, dead mess.

This needs some clarification. Technically, you can have theology without any Biblical basis, but it's going to end up whacked. It will be the product of your own head, your own culture, and your own dinner last night. Any divine inspiration guiding your theology will be entirely unverifiable.

The reverse is also true. You can study the Bible without considering any theology, but then you end up knowing lots of random facts without having any idea how to connect them. You can recite the book of Numbers, but you can't explain the Trinity because there isn't a verse that explicitly states it. As soon as you start looking at themes and how the verses relate to each other and what the Bible is trying to tell you about God, guess what - that's theology.

"Well, that may be so," the Bible students might say, "but our theology is based entirely on the Bible. It's straight from God. It's the purest, most true, and only worthwhile theology."

Funny you should say that. Actually, in the fourth century, there was a group of people known as the Homoians. They thought the same thing. They resisted using any kind of terminology or developing any ideas beyond what they saw was as being clearly demonstrated in Scripture.

They were also condemned and excommunicated as heretics for denying the deity of Christ.

What I'm trying to say is you really can't build a theology on nothing but the Bible. Your theology will still be coming from your own head and your own culture, except that you'll have replaced last night's dinner with the Word of God. You will feel more confident, but there's still plenty of room for things to go really wrong. It has certainly happened in the past.

That is why it is so important to have people studying theology beyond what is written in the pages of the Bible. When you study theology, you can see how other people from other cultures and other times have developed their ideas. You can see things about those theologies to which its creators were blind. You can see other points of view you would never have considered. You can follow the arguments back and forth to find out where the theories are weak and where they are strong. You can see what influenced their development, and fast-forward to discover its consequences. Best of all, it doesn't take you 2000 years to do. You simply reap the benefits of two millenniums of theological discourse in the span of one lifetime.

Studying the Bible allows for a lot of personal growth and is certainly a very important part of anyone's life. I don't intend to imply that Biblical studies are a waste of time. Study your Bible, and be excited about it!

But please don't turn up your nose at theology. That's just silly.

Uncle Ray: Are they teaching you any heresy at Bible school?
Me: Well, actually, I'm in a history of Christian theology class, so yeah... kind of a lot.

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period." C. S. Lewis

Monday, 15 October 2012

何爱平

Mandarin class is my favourite. A lot of interesting stuff happens there.

We were not allowed to speak Mandarin in Mandarin class for about a month. The teacher called it our "silent period" and instructed us to just listen. However, we have finally been released from our silent period. I am not all that good at talking, but I like to say my numbers. It's like I've regressed to kindergarten. My favourite number is 2. When you say it properly, you sound like a seal. I'm always tempted to clap my hands together in a seal-like manner whenever I get to say it.

It's not a laughing or questioning seal, mind you. It's a very matter-of-fact sounding seal.

A group of us students were driving to Moose Jaw with one of Caronport's vans.

"We have van number two today," said Levi.

"Èr!" I said, excitedly, pointing at the number two.

Levi laughed. Luckily, he happens to know Mandarin and managed to catch my switch from English to Chinese. "Èr!" he agreed. "Good."

I don't always say it in a proper context, though. It kind of just bubbles out sometimes, like when Stephanie and I were walking down the hall.

"Èr!" I said. You can do that with classmates who are also learning Mandarin, but it might be considered rude or odd with someone who isn't. Happily, Stephanie had the social grace to reply in kind.

"Èr!" she exclaimed. And we went "Èr! Èr!" all the way to our dorms.

Whoever said college is a place for deep intellectual discussion never learned a new language for credit.

***

Class was over and I was packing up my bag.

"Hey Carla," said Chuck, "Which language is more romantic? French or Italian?" Apparently he and Timothy were having an argument over the matter.

Being the authority on romantic languages that I am, I was pleased to respond. "I think probably Italian, because French has too much of the hackxchhxhc stuff."

Chuck is a native French speaker, but said, "I agree."

"No way," said Timothy. "It's not German."

"How about you both say something romantic to me and then I'll decide?" I suggested.

"I'd be up for that," said Chuck. Timothy shrugged.

So I settled myself into my chair and delicately folded together my hands. Chuck stared over my head and said something in a quick stream of Italian. Timothy looked down at the table and said something in a non-Germanic stream of French.

I shrugged. "They're about the same," I reported.

Sheesh. If you're going to try to woo a girl, at least have the guts to look her in the eye.

***
 
We were working in pairs. We were taking turns saying sentences (in Mandarin) with the "X is a Y"  structure. The other person would match their picture cards according to what the first person had dictated.

"They are children," I said. Tianna matched her cards.

"She is a young person," said Tianna. I matched my cards.

"You are a baby," I said nonchalantly to Tianna, wondering if she'd notice. She matched her picture cards.

"You are an old woman," returned Tianna, equally nonchalantly. I matched my picture cards.

It's probably a good thing we both temporarily forgot about the picture card of a dog in our pile.

***

I was given my Chinese name today by my Mandarin teacher and our Chinese intern, Miao Yu.  It's been 23 years since I was last named, so it was pretty exciting. One does not simply receive a new name every day. Miao Yu spent a lot of time thinking and praying about our names.

何爱平


This is pronounced "Hé Àipíng" and means "loving peace and justice". They also gave me a verse, Micah 6:8, which just so happened to already be hanging on my fridge - "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

This is a very good name and I like it a lot. My face was plastered with a ridiculous smile all class, which only got larger when, as the teacher asked for Chinese words we knew with the "H" sound, I pointed out my name and she had the whole class tell me hello.

I'll still answer to Carla, though. That's a good name, too.

***

"Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering." Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Great Husband Hunt

When people at home learned of my school plans, they typically had one of two reactions:

1. "Nice! What are you studying?"
2. "Good luck getting your M.R.S.!"

Seriously, I was just about drowned in BridalQuest jokes. And now that I've been away for a full month, I'm sure there are a great many people out there who wish to know whether I'm dating anyone yet.

So, just for those people, I thought I'd go ahead and document the highlights of my love life here. It's a gripping tale.

***

Open dorms in my building are really open. Guys just wander into our quad.

"Hey," said a guy as he wandered inside. "Aren't you in my theo class?"

"Um," I said, looking up from my computer.

"You're writing a paper on Arius," he said.

"Yes," I replied.

"So am I," he said. "I've borrowed some books from the professor, and I've photocopied the stuff I need. They're good primary sources. I'll go get them for you right now."

"Oh," I said. "Thanks."

So he came back right away with the appropriate research material for my paper. At least I managed to learn his name before he wandered back out again.

***

"Is this a dorm date?" asked Mark during the dorm's campfire worship time.

"It's a dorm date," I replied.

"It's NOT a dorm date!" Greg the RA interjected.

The official dorm date happened later. They went bowling. I missed it. I was busy hiking with my cohort.

***

I'm not the only one here who's no good with names. It was open dorms again, and James wandered into my quad to invite me over for supper - two more guys and two more girls were also invited. I think James was the only one who knew everyone's names. Over the course of the dinner conversation, however, we sort of introduced ourselves several times.

"Ok," said Heather to Mark when he declared that he now knew all our names. "What are all our names?"

He managed the first two girls (they had coached him on their names just prior to this conversation) and then got to me. "Umm...." he stuttered, "Uh... this incredibly lovely and most beautiful woman over here!"

"Nice," said Heather, "but that's not her name."

"It's not?" said Mark, abashedly heading for the door, "Well, it should be."

Saurov shook his head at Mark. "Your name means 'love' in French though, doesn't it?" he said to me.

"Uh..." I said, "No?"

"It doesn't?" he said, surprised. I think he thought my name was Amy or something.

"Nope," I said.

"Oh! No, you're right, it doesn't," said Saurov, trying to cover.

"I'm Carla," I said.

"Right, right!" the guys chimed.

***

I was a bit tardy getting to chapel in the morning. Yet, when I arrived in the academic building, way more people than usual were still milling around, chatting and undeniably not in chapel. I kept walking toward the auditorium, because what else would I do?

As I passed a classroom on the way there, someone or other called my name. I looked inside. There was a full circle of about a dozen guys sitting inside. Even now, I'm not sure who called my name, but it was probably Chuck. He's part of my cohort. I think he was the only one there that knows my name well enough to recognize me, retrieve my name from his brain, and get it from his mind to his mouth fast enough to catch me in the hall. It could possibly have been Nathan - after he had generously given me the books on Arius, he found out he couldn't renew his other ones because I had put them on hold.

"Was that you?" he had said, stopping me in the hall.

"Uh," I said, embarrassed, "...yeah?"

"Oh, well," he said.

At any rate, I only knew two of the others in the circle; Mark has probably forgotten my name already and I'm pretty sure Greg at least knows my face.

"Is there no chapel today?" I asked.

"It's variety chapel," they responded. "We break into groups. Come be the lone female representative in our group."

Seeing as I had no idea what other options were available, or where, I sat down.

"Really?" said Chuck.

"I guess," I said.

They cheered. Nathan opened with a prayer that went something along the lines of "Thanks, God, for all these guys and girl..."

Now I know how Chuck and Andrew feel in a cohort of females.  My small group is full of guys and me. It just happened. No, I swear, I'm not engaged to any of them.

Although there was that one time I was talking to my dad and brother on Skype and my RD, Kathy, momentarily thought I had two guys in my room. She was convinced enough to walk in and check.

But rest assured, it's only Thanksgiving. Some people take a whole two months to find their husband, you know.

Westley: I told you I would always come for you. Why didn't you wait for me?
Buttercup: Well, you were dead.
Westley: But death cannot stop true love... all it can do is delay it for a while.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Anglican Church: An Analysis

I ended up going to the Anglican church mostly out of desperation (see my last post). Although Anglicanism and liturgical churches aren't quite off-my-radar like the Mormon or the JW churches I visited, it's still a bit of a stretch from what I'm used to. Yet one of my cohorts, Jaynette, had been there before and said that last year she had contemplated making it her regular church. Also, my school's chaplain is Anglican. Figuring it couldn't be too bad, I asked Jaynette if she wanted to go again with me.

"I don't think you'll like it," she said, but she agreed to come anyway.

So we dressed up and drove downtown and found a place to park. Then we walked around the building to go inside. I remark on this because my first impression was formed before we ever got inside.

First impression: BEAUTIFUL STONE BUILDING! STAINED GLASS WINDOWS! TALL AND MAJESTIC! SQUEE!

I've been in churches like that before, but never for service.

The problem with awe inspiring architecture and stonework is that it can also be intimidating, but I have to give the church this: the people themselves were very warm and welcoming. The older gentleman who opened the door for us was happy to see us. The "greet your neighbour" time that seems to be universal among churches of every denomination was uplifting. And we were invited to stay for a light lunch afterwards. But more on that later.

Second impression: Wow. Given the formal setting, I'm surprised so many people are in jeans and t-shirts.

There was even one point that a guy in a Rider's jersey got up to pray in front of the congregation. It felt a little odd to watch him, and to simultaneously see the priest behind him, decked out in full ecumenical wear. But I guess in a way, it was a good thing. In my mind, uniformed robes like the church clergy wear not only distinguish the "holy" people from the lay people, but separate them. Yet here, the run-of-the-mill congregants and the clergy interacted and treated each other like normal people, robe or no robe. It was one community - not one set of people putting on a show for another set of people. And even in the football jersey, the man still solemnly bowed his head before the image of Christ at the back of the church before he sat down again.

The service itself was very stimulating. For one thing, Jaynette and I had a fun, if not mildly frantic, time of flipping through the two books and the bulletin that contained the responsive readings and the hymns.

These weren't your average hymnals, yo. They were the "Book of Common Praise" and the "Book of Alternative Services", which were affectionately known as the "Blue" and "Green" books, respectively. My praise book had all the lyrics, but not the music. And you needed the music, because the tunes went all over the place. They were highly creative and pleasant melodies, but not exactly easy to catch on to. And the organ music didn't lend you a lot of clues about where the song was going to go, either.

Jaynette's praise book had the music, but the substantial score made following the stanzas a mind melting task. So basically, I'd end up trying to read both of ours at the same time, which is another trick in and of itself. And then, in the middle of the song, the congregation would stop and go into a responsive reading, which was in neither of our books. Then we'd just scratch our heads until Jaynette discovered that unannounced responsive readings were typed out in the bulletin. Sometimes the readings were in the green book, but if you missed the brief mention of what number was being used, you were lost. I was lost most of the time.

But throughout all the songs and all the responsive readings, I didn't find anything that I felt I couldn't say. Granted, I only found some of it, period. But what I did see and hear was very clear, classic, and poetic.

Impression number three: Aha! I'm catching on to this cue and response thing! We even do some of this at school!

For example, whenever a portion of scripture has been read, the reader will follow it up by saying, "This is the word of the Lord," to which the congregation replies, "Thanks be to God." That's the one we do at school. The church also used one during prayer. Whenever the person who was praying felt like it, they'd say, "Lord, in your mercy," and the congregation would join in, "Hear our prayer." And during the neighbour meet-and-greet, the standard exchange was "Peace be with you," followed by, "And with you."

I like those things. They helped to make sure that you didn't zone out and start thinking about how a ninja could creep along the structural supports or how much starch they used in the ecumenical robes. You had to be paying attention so you could reply appropriately. We use this kind of tactic at kids' day camps, only it feels rather more sacred at this kind of church.

When the priest gave the sermon, I was pleasantly surprised. Usually, when any non-Pentecostal or non-hellfire-and-brimstone pastor is depicted preaching in movies, it's a reverend of the liturgical brand. And the scene usually proceeds like this:

Reverend: drone drone drone
Congregation: yawn.... sniff, blink
Reverend: buzz buzz mumble
Congregation: zzzzzzzzzzz.....
Protagonist: I AM GOING TO DO SOMETHING TO SHOCK EVERYONE!

But the priest here was very dynamic, upbeat, and relevant. He cracked a few jokes and at least once prompted someone in the congregation to talk to him. He seemed to have a twinkle in his eye the entire time. Maybe he knew how funny it was to watch a man in ecumenical garb enthusiastically discuss the Avengers movie. Apparently he had only been at the job in this church for a matter of weeks, but he seemed perfectly comfortable. And the sermon was a beautiful mix of one part scriptural exegesis, one part what-that-means-for-us. I got the impression that he would have no problem with challenging the congregation on a point of devotion or morality.

At the end of the service was the Eucharist. They specifically said that anyone who had been baptized in any denomination should feel welcome to take part, and I'm glad they did. It was a special experience. I've done communion many times, but it was done just a little differently here.

First, you lined up and put your hands cupped together to receive the bread. The bread was disgusting, by the way. Not that it matters, but it tasted like styrofoam. At any rate, you waited until the priest came down the line and personally took a piece of "bread", blessed it, and put it into your hands. Then the People's Warden came after him with the shared goblet of wine. Real wine. You took a sip, and then before moving on to the next person, she wiped where you had sipped with a rag to give the appearance of sanitation.

I make jokes, but I found the experience moving and actually felt as if I had been blessed.

After the service was over, the People's Warden introduced herself to us. "Hello," she said, "I'm Carla."

"I'm Carla," I replied.

After musing on the sameness of our names, she invited us to the basement for crackers and cheese, which we accepted. While we were there, several different people came over to find out who we were and to chat. And we kept them quite a while. Jaynette and I had a lot of questions about what exactly the Anglican church believes about the sacraments, salvation, and what role of the queen has (her picture was prominently hung in the basement).

So far as I can tell, they don't believe anything too bizarre or even non-protestant. At least, these ones didn't. I don't know if the priests would claim an apostolic inheritance of their authority or not, but this church seemed pretty down to earth.

I don't know if I could attend an Anglican church full-time for an extended period, simply because I would miss the more laid back Protestant evangelical kind of church I've been raised with. But I would definitely encourage people to visit one from time to time, to remind themselves of how sacred and awe-inspiring God really is.

Unfortunately, I don't have any particularly relevant quote to end this with, so I'll use something I found from Saint Athanasius:

"For God is good, or rather the source of all goodness, and one who is good grudges nothing, so that grudging nothing its existence, he made all things through his own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ." (section three)

If God creates things based on not grudging them, think of how many things he must have created! It's incredible!