Sunday, June 29, 2008

Podcast: How To Think About Science

There was a day when the church was the epistemic authority--the institution that told intellectuals how to think and the limits of what could be known as well as instructing the masses in what was true and false. But the Enlightenment shattered the foundations of theological authority as the Reformers exposed the church's abuses of authority and philosophers generated new methods of knowing that called the church's truth claims into question. And it's those modern methods of knowing and the institution that supports them that we now call "science".

How To Think About Science is a CBC Podcast that explores the institutions and methods of science. Science is the epistemic authority of our day, yet reformers are questioning the ways its authority is used and philosophers are questioning the basic assumptions that support its method. How To Think About Science is the only medium I know of (Someone, correct me if I'm wrong.) that collects the disparate voices challenging the authority of science and places them together in the context of an epistemological revolution.

This revolution coincides with the cultural and philosophical movement known as postmodernism and could be identified with it. Like postmodernism, it's not exactly clear what it will become and what the next epistemic authority will be. But if you'll indulge me going out on a limb and playing prophet, I'd say that the next epistemic authority will resemble a Wiki and its method will be something one could label "collective phenomenology".

But please, don't quote me on that in twenty years (unless I'm right).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blog: Caricatures of Adventists

If you feel the need to enjoy a holy chuckle this Sabbath, check out the cartoons at Caricatures of Adventists. If you shun levity on the Lord's Day, click the link and meditate on portraits produced by an amazing, anonymous, Adventist artist and the informative mini-bios that accompany them. This one's my favorite.

Update [10-29-09]: apokalupto media: Prophecy Chart Interview

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How To Talk About Hanging Out On The Couch

I recently got the DVD of the Red Books play about Ellen White. It's a great play, and I highly recommend it...except for one part that made me cringe. It wasn't the part where the angry man uses Ellen White's quotes to put the kibosh on her fun, nor the scene where scholars are shooting each other with books. No; it was the part where an actor attempted to mimic a Canadian accent.

As a person who has a very sensitive ear for accents, I believe that if you can't do an accent right, you shouldn't do it at all. And having spent some time in Canada, I know what the Canadian accent sounds like. So, America, when you get the urge to do a Canadian accent, take the following advice in the spirit in which it was offered, and stop embarrassing yourself before an audience of 33.3 million Canadians.

First, you need to know that the accent you are trying to imitate is the Central and Western English Canadian accent, which is different than the Francophone, Maritime, and Newfoundland English Canadian accents. Second, although most Canadians hardly ever use the word "eh", it is most often used to soften the impact of a statement that could otherwise be offensive (pronounced oh'-fen-siv) by turning it into a question. And if you use it like that, you won't sound like a total idiot, eh?

Finally, there is the issue of [deep breath] "aboot". This is where most Americans have a grossly distorted notion of the phenomenon known to linguists as Canadian Raising. What that means, in technical terms, is when Canadians pronounce "out" they use a diphthong, a combination of two vowel sounds; whereas when Americans say "aboot", they use only one vowel sound.

So, to do a Canadian "out" correctly you need to make one vowel sound for the "o", slide into another for the "u", finish with a hard "t" (not a "d"). The easiest way to learn it is to start by saying "oat", next quickly flick the pitch of your voice up so that the "oh" sound becomes an "oo" sound at the end. Now make it sound smooth and natural (don't over-doooo it), and soon you'll be able to talk about hanging out on the couch with Bob and Doug like a real Canadian!

If you want, you can also sprinkle in a little Canadian vocabulary, and you're on your way to devastating your neighbours to the north with your wit and humour.
  • Toque (pronounced 'took)=knit winter cap
  • Boost=jump start
  • Chesterfield=couch, sofa
  • Cutlery=sliverware
  • Runners=running shoes, sneekers
  • Washroom=bathroom
  • Gasbar=gas station
  • The Great One=Wayne Gretzky

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Like Children

I have observed something about children. Their perspective on personal tragedy is different than adults. And this observation has taught me something about my journey with God.

For a child events like falling down on a hard surface, not getting to play with a desired toy, or being sent to bed while others stay up are major tragedies. They wail, shed tears, and loudly protest the situation. Yet, sooner or later, they allow their parents to comfort them and then proceed with life as if nothing had happened.

Now, what makes the difference between the parents' reaction to the emotionally negative event vis a vis the child's? The difference is time. The parents' life-experience has given them a broader perspective on this type of event.

They know what the child does not: That these experiences are to be expected, that the pain does not last forever, that life will go on, and that better times will come. This does not lessen the emotional content of the child's tragedy in the parents' eyes; they still sympathize with their child and wish the child didn't have that experience. But because they can frame this event in a broader context, they are able to offer comfort to their child.

Of course, the parents have tragedies of their own that their children are not yet old enough to fully comprehend: foreclosures, layoffs, mental illness, chronic illness, and death. The question is Who comforts the adult during these times? Who is able to guide us through the experience of death as one who has been there before? (You probably know where this is headed.)

God's time is different than our time, and that gives Him an eternal perspective on the tragedies of our life. He's been through greater tragedy than we can comprehend. Can any one of us claim to fully grasp the significance of famine, genocide, the fall of Lucifer, sin, or the Cross? (Perhaps this is why Christians sometimes talk so glibly about hell.)

So he picks us up, hugs us, tells us it will be OK, wipes away our tears, and releases us into an eternal life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poem: Losing WSUI

Just back from another road trip, I caught a poem on The Writer's Almanac this morning that encapsulates my frequency modulated expeditions as a motorist who listens to low power, non-commercial radio.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seminary: Prayer Services

One of the great thing about being in seminary is the opportunity to pray with your classmates. You see people stopping together for a quick chat with God all the time, or at least more than you do in WalMart. There's also a short prayer service in the chapel every day that begins when my morning class ends, and it's a great way to receive spiritual power, bless others, and fight the temptation of intellectualism that haunts us seminarians.

Sometimes I wonder whether I would attend prayer services like these if I wasn't a pastor, who has to run prayer meetings, or a seminarian, who has easy access to them. I pray that I would.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I Learned From Sid Meier's Civilization

One of my favorite Christmas presents as a boy was the computer game, Civilization. It's a turn based strategy game that lets you pretend to be the supreme ruler of a world civilization for 6000 years of its development (talk about a narcissistic head trip). I've wasted hours with that game and its subsequent iterations, but I did learn one important lesson from it:

If you plan to win today, you will loose tomorrow.

When most novice players begin a game of Civilization they immediately focus on building military units to take out their nearest neighbor. And when they succeed, at great military and economic cost; they find they've opened Pandora's box, because the neighbor of their neighbor has been spending money on technology, has more advanced units, and is not happy with whoever took out their ally. So next time the defeated player, having learned the wrong lesson, focuses on technology to the detriment of their military, and is quickly defeated by a militaristic neighbor who has built hordes of less advanced units.

Success in Civilization depends on patience, taking the long view, and a willingness to be less successful today in order position yourself to be more successful in the future. The mistake that novice players make is perceiving themselves as the only change agent in the game world. They believe that the word stands still as they make and execute their plans, that the world will not respond proactively to what they do, and their their actions will only cause the effects they intended.

In my observation, the church often acts in the world like a novice Civilization player. It found something that worked yesterday, rushes to get thousands of converts with it; wonders what went wrong, and then tries the exact opposite; all the while paying little heed to its changing environment and the long view of things. This is especially disturbing to me in light of the fact that the church claims to know from prophecy what the end will look like, because the best Civilization players have the end in mind from the beginning.

I don't know what to do about this, but here's are a couple of scriptures that might point us in the right direction.
From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the temper of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. (1 Chronicles 12:32, NLT)
So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8, NKJV)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rick Steves' Iran

Rick Steves is my travel guru from back when I read his seminal Europe Through The Back Door before my first Europe trip as teenager. It basically showed me how to make my way through countries where I didn't speak the language and have fun doing it. But it was only recently that I discovered he has a blog (who doesn't these days), where he invites you to "Hitch an online ride with Rick".

Rick took a trip to Iran recently--yes, the same Iran that made McCain a karaoke superstar--and blogged his experience there. Given the current geopolitical situation and Rick's inter-cultural acumen, this series of posts is a great place to get some perspective. If you read nothing else, you have to check out this post: "Death to Israel...Death to Traffic".

Friday, June 13, 2008


[An image of the official Seventh-day Adventist logo was removed at the request of the Office of General Counsel.]

An excerpt from my conference's weekly announcement email:
UPDATED SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST LOGO It now includes the registered trademark ® symbol. Update your stationary, business cards, newsletterheads, church bulletins, and other printed items. Use the ® after the first use of the word "Adventist" in a document. Adventist Church Connect websites have been updated. Contact to download the updated logos.

There you have it. My "identity" as an Adventist has been trademarked. Why would I want to be a part of a worldwide movement when I can sport a global brand?

Sarcasm aside, what I see here is the culmination of a long, misguided attempt on the part of the General Conference (GC) Communication Department* to control the meaning of the name "Adventist" from the top down. There's an history of legal action around this issue (some of it justified) that isn't necessary to rehash here. My point is that there are two major problems with this strategy.
  1. They're defending a brand that has minimal market penetration as if it had major market penetration. A 2003 a study found that only 56% of North Americans had heard of the Adventist Church, and of those one sixth knew nothing about it beyond that fact it was a religion. My point is that at a time when we need all the viral marketing help we can get, we're actually banning websites that aren't run by the church bureaucracy from having the word "Adventist" in their title (e.g. Sabbath Pulpit "formerly the Adventist Pulpit").
  2. For a communication department* that is reputed to be emergent and postmodern and [insert hip label here] this a very unclassy move. In a generation that is over-advertised and suspicious of religious institutions, that little ® screams, "Join us, so we can get your money!" Seriously, that ® is going to do more damage to our image than the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church ever could.

Now I don't want this to be an anti-Ray screed. I think his department has done a lot of good things lately. But it seems to me, from where I sit, that Mr. Dabrowski has some 'splainin' to do; and I am open to that explanation.

(There are two possible responses that will mean something significant to me: (1) Ray Dabrowski comments on this blog and offers an explanation, or (2) I get a communication from the GC asking me to remove the official logo.)

*It has now become clear that this decision did not originate with the Communication Department, but with the Office of General Counsel, directed by Robert Kyte (see the comments).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Euthanos - A Good Death

Today, I'm attending the funeral of a 92 year old woman. Until a week and a half ago, when she went to the hospital, she had full independence. After the doctors had tested her, they said she had cancer. Eight days later, after saying goodbye to her children and grandchildren, she was dead.

I consider this to be a good death, as I have watched others endure painful battles with cancer for years, battles that could not be won. Yet the concept of a good death seems to be an oxymoron. How can we consider the end of a life to be a good thing?

May I suggest that the quality of a death is defined by the quality of the life it ends--the things that the living being is able to attend to before death, the amount of pain that attends life, the meaning that the life gives to its death, etc. Of course, life is to be preferred to death. Yet, in this world, we all must say goodbye for the last time, and the way we go about doing that is important.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

...And We're Back

Tonight I'm starting a new chapter of apokalupto. As you can see, it's been almost two years since I signed off, and a lot's happened during that time. So instead of writing two lengthy paragraphs to fill you in on those happenings, I'll just make a brief two point list with three sentences per item.
  1. Just Pastors is no more. Pastors easily get distracted too busy, and so our blog went the way of all things under the sun. If you're looking for pastoral tips and tools, check out Georgia Grown.
  2. I am now a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. That's right; I'm now in the backyard of my home and native land, Minnesota. But Michigan's almost as nice.
Now why would I want to restart my blog in the midst of my seminary education; don't they give me enough papers to write? Well, I'll have you know that my workload is now less than when I was a pastor. But apart from that, here's a list summarizing my reasons for reviving apokalupto.
  1. I keep coming across things (news items, ideas, media, etc.) that I really, really want to blog about. I know it's selfish, but aren't all great writers narcissists?
  2. I would like to give theology undergrads and pastoral interns an sense of what to expect from their seminary experience. This is especially for Adventist pastors in North American, the majority of whom have or will study at Andrews University. I know that this has been done before, but someone has to take up the mantle.
So there you have my two part vision for apokalupto: (1) the same old eclectic content with (2) a new focus on seminary life. Hope you like it. Stay tuned.

And don't forget to comment.