Fall Issue 12
Missing Rikk Already:
Reflections and Anecdotes from
Staff, Students and Faculty
The following is just a small sampling of the hundreds of thoughts and stories that will continue to be a part of Regent for years after Rikk has gone:
Jenna Veenbaas: Within my first year at Regent, I found myself signing up for a 15 minute slot on Rikk's door. I had no reason to see him -- or so I thought -- other than to ask about his mentor, Gordon Fee, of whom I was intrigued to hear more. But quickly into the conversation, the focus of the conversation fell onto my own insecurities and fears and doubts and current existential crisis, seemingly due to the fact that Rikk is aware that no one signs up on his door to "just chat." What followed were tears, encouragements, exhortations to speak in tongues, inquiries as to why I was single, and all the typical Rikk Wattsian remarks that seek to teach one how to live life more fully. But what really blew my mind was that the man let me sit in his office for an hour and a half. That alone was enough to tell me that this professor cared about more than just exegesis.
Dr. Edwin Hui: When Rikk first joined the faculty, he impressed me as a very energetic and creative scholar who was half Canadian and half Australian. In about a year or so, he volunteered to teach NT in one of the Regent Annual Summer Schools in China. Since then he has volunteered every year and I won't be surprised that he has a small group of followers in China. Now I am convinced that Rikk is also half Chinese. You are at least 150% in everything you do. You will be missed Rikk.
Ed Smith: A couple Rikk highlights [quotes paraphrased]: Exhortation to the single men of Regent in NT Foundations: “There are a lot of amazing single women studying here. If you see her and like her then go for her!”
To students who will be writing a take-home exam in the days following. “This is on the honour system so we’re expecting you not to cheat. But if you do cheat, don’t be surprised if fifteen years down the road you wake up in bed with a woman who isn’t your wife.”
Against the desire to rush through your MDiv... : "What sort of of wine do you want to be? The cheap stuff that's brought out with fish and chips or the finely aged vintage that's saved for Christmas or Easter Dinner?"
Ali Cumming: When talking to a pastor, who is a Regent alum, I asked "Who was your favourite prof. when you were at Regent?" and he quickly answered "Rikk Watts". I asked why and he responded "Because he introduced me to Jesus." How beautiful
Damon Mak: My first class at Regent was the Gospel of John with Rikk. I remember how I was in complete shock on the first day of class. Yes, there was a lot of material covered on the first and every day–most of the stuff completely passed over my head too. But, throughout the class, I was watching someone present the gospel in a way that was engaging and lively; I wanted to learn more and I didn’t want the class to end! In every subsequent class I’ve taken with Rikk he continues to bring the same passion in teaching God’s word. It was always fun when he would mix in some of his Aussie humour. Importantly, I’ve learned to do theology with two feet on the ground from Rikk. Thank you Rikk for your openness, vulnerability, and authenticity. Most of all, your humility. Thank you for inspiring me to work hard and to have fun while studying God’s word. Thank you for encouraging us each step along the way. You will be missed at Regent. When you do come back to visit (please do), make sure to bring a bottle of that Australian Shiraz–I hear they make great wine there.
Rob Gardner: I will always remember your soap box moments fondly, the passion and conviction for reading the Scriptures holistically and in the right context of mind.
Too true is it that falsehood has crept into the traditional teachings in churches. How the lies corrupt the knowledge and trust in YHWH. May we never be silent about the truth you reminded us. Let us forever preach the personal God known first to Israel throughout His creation.
Know Him, breathe Him, stay forever faithful to Him who always is. Blessings.
Iain Provan: [Excerpt from his Chapel speech] ... Quite simply, you’ve been a great friend and colleague to many, Rikk. You’ve been a great friend and colleague to ME, even though you and I look at the world in somewhat different ways, and we have very different personalities and temperaments. … Let me end with this: we love you Rikk, and all of us on faculty are going to miss you terribly. Thank you for being such an important part of this community for such a long time.
Five New Novels for the Christmas Break
By James Smoker
C. S. Lewis famously said that, “after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” (C. S. Lewis, “On Reading Old Books”) Well, you’ve read plenty of old books this term, so you’ve built up some credit for new ones. I’m also a firm believer that fiction can teach truths as well as (maybe even better) than non-fiction, so I’ve stuck to five novels. If you wish I had included some poetry, history, biography, or other non-fiction, may this spark a further conversation with you and your friends on books to read (for fun!) over the break.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: This one’s for those of you who wish your Harry Potter had more Charles Dickens, Napoleonic history, and footnotes. And was funnier! Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell takes place in a world almost like ours…except magic, wizards, and the fairy world are all real. With the advent of the Enlightenment, magic has become a thing studied rather than practiced. The titular characters want to change that, albeit each in their own way. This is Susanna Clarke’s only novel so far, and it took her ten years to write. It shows. She knows this world and every character, no matter how minor, inside out. But beyond the incredible world building of a nineteenth century Europe almost like our own, this novel is about a realm of magic and fairies—a dangerous but wondrous realm—just beyond our own, always much closer to bursting through the cracks than any of us suspect.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich: The newest book on this list, LaRose was published this year. It begins with an unthinkable tragedy: Landreaux, an Ojibwe man, is hunting a buck on his land. When he takes his shot, he accidentally shoots and kills his best friend’s five-year-old son instead. The rest of the novel is the unfolding of the consequences throughout the small North Dakota community interwoven with Landreaux’s family history. Erdrich explores questions of heritage, revenge and justice throughout her novel, but the New York Times Book Review said it best when it wrote that LaRose is about the question of whether “a person can do the worst possible thing and still be loved? Erdrich’s answer is a resounding yes.”
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine: Did you read Gilead yet? Did you like it, but wish that its narrator had actually been a72-year-old Beiruti woman, divorced, solitary, who sleeps with an AK-47 next to her instead of a husband through Lebanon’s many civil wars, and with a penchant for translating books into Arabic and then squirrelling them away in her many storage spaces? Then this is the perfect novel for you.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: It’s 1980 in rural Montana. Pete Snow is a social worker whose most recent case is an 11-year-old boy who has wandered into a schoolyard. The boy, it turns out, is the son of Jeremiah Pearl, a reclusive prophet who lives in the wilderness. Shades of Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away meet the whisky priest’s trials in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory as Henderson’s novel tells a story of lost children, compassion in spite of brokenness, and the hints of grace that permeate what is sometimes a very dark world.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: One night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, lives for only seconds, then dies. That same night, Ursula Todd is born, finds her breath, and lives. Thus begins Life After Life, the story of a woman who lives her life again after she dies. The slightest changes spin her life in new directions again and again. But this is not Groundhog Day set during interwar and World War II era Britain. Ursula’s gift (if it is a gift) never becomes the plot, but is the means through which Atkinson explores the many paths a life can take. The history of England under the Blitz, British family drama, and poetry—from Keats to Wordsworth to Hopkins—enrich the already excellent premise into a great winter read.
The Myth of Myths
By Corey Janz
The great myth about a great myth is that it’s a myth; a great myth is not, in fact, a myth at all. I know: that doesn’t make any sense at all—but hear me out…
There is a certain colloquial expression that’s becoming increasingly bothersome to me. It may yet drive me mad. You’ve all heard it before—even recently, I’m sure. It rears its ugly head after something erroneous—a story or piece of data or whatever—is referenced in conversation; then somebody pipes up and replies, “Oh, that’s just a myth.”
There’s so much going on in this tiny little phrase that makes it positively absurd. For one thing, how can a myth be just a myth? Myths are not just anything—neither are they things for belittling, things that belong on the bottom rung of our perceived caste system of communicative mediums, as though barely worth our attention. If something is a myth, it should be recognised with wide-eyed, hands-folded reverence: “Verily, that is truly a myth.”
I realise, though, that this eye-twitch-inducing insistence of mine only makes sense when the term ‘myth’ is properly understood. But, once again, this colloquialism befuddles sober thought. Here, myth has taken on the meaning of ‘not really true.’ This is utterly preposterous, of course, and bears the lion’s share of my semantic ire.
First off, if we want to get technical and etymological, all story-structures should be called myths—or mythoi. This necessarily gives myth a very wide net indeed, and one that embraces ‘true’ and ‘false’ indifferently. But Northrop Frye, the great (Canadian!) literary critic of the 20th Century, narrows the definition helpfully by giving it a secondary qualification:
"Certain stories seem to have a peculiar significance: they are the stories that tell a society what is important for it to know, whether about its gods, its history, its laws, or its class structure. These stories may be called myths in a secondary sense, a sense that distinguished them from folktales—stories told for entertainment or other less central purposes. […] Mythical, in this secondary sense, therefore means the opposite of ‘not really true’: it means being charged with a special seriousness and importance (The Great Code, 33-34).
So myth, in the first sense, is defined by story-structure; but in the second sense it takes on the deeply social function of communicating what Frye calls “concerned knowledge, what is important for society to know” (47). In this secondary sense, too, Frye highlights myth’s societal role in telling the truth: a culture’s myths tell that culture true things that are centrally important for it to know (or, at least, what that culture believes to be true).
To revisit that weird first sentence above, then: “The great myth (colloquially understood—i.e., ‘not true’) about a great myth (in the second sense—i.e., ‘centrally true’) is that it’s a myth (‘not true’); a great myth (‘centrally true’) is not in fact a myth (‘not true’) at all.” It’s a veritable tautology, I’m telling you!
All that said, I’m not spending time at Regent to learn how to properly roll my eyes over colloquialisms like some sort of ivory tower elitist. And I certainly doubt I’ll make so much as a dent in cleaning “Oh, that’s just a myth” from the face of our modern language. But underneath the cantankerous snobbery manifest above, I am studying myth because I think it’s of central importance to Christian living today.
Given Frye’s definition of myth, I think it’s safe to comfortably identify the Bible as Christianity’s mythical corpus—something Frye does convincingly in his book The Great Code. That is, the Bible is the Church’s preeminent source of truth, of concerned knowledge.
At the same time, though, it’s also safe to assert that all cultures assert their own myths—and given we the Church are not a people bounded by political or geographical boundaries, we are all subject to various other mythical corpora. Here in western secular culture, for instance, I’ve often remarked (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) how the Marvel Universe currently taking popular film culture by storm seems to mirror the mythical world of the Greek pantheon—albeit adjusted for its secular humanist audience. One might rather define Marvel as folktale (i.e., entertainment), but the mythical element of those films consistently comes out loud and clear: human deliverance comes not from divinity, but from humanity itself. In fact, this bit of ‘socially concerned knowledge’ reaches our ears from all directions and mediums here in the West, whether it’s from entertainment sources, political addresses, or anything in between.
To adopt a phrase from our own Iain Provan, “We are all being catechised”—the implicit question being, but by what/whom? Which mythos is forming our thought? Quite honestly, I am growing concerned that the strength of the church’s myth-telling is being outmatched by that of secular culture. Certainly, they’ve become much better than us at telling a story—even if their stories are not as good as ours. In the midst of today’s ongoing communications revolution, many of us have sat back on our laurels and lamented that nobody is reading the Bible anymore—as though the Gospel somehow depends on a printed text for communication (remember that it was oral before it was ever literal)! It may be revealed to and preserved for us in that invaluable medium, but the Gospel—the Myth of Myths told by the whole of Scripture—remains the Gospel whether it is read, heard, watched, or witnessed. If we want our churches, much less the world, to be shaped by the Christian mythos, oughtn’t we get better at telling it?
From the Editor: One Reason I'll Be Proud
to Call Myself a Regent Alum
This is my last issue as Editor of the Etc. before I place this ol’ rag in the able hands of Matt Nelson for next semester.
First off, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to the Regent community for making this job easy for me. I was warned going in that editing the Etc. can be a bit of a nightmare, because it’s impossible to get enough submissions from busy grad students who aren't getting paid to write. I’m happy to say that I didn’t find that to be the case. And that’s thanks to a community of generous people who gave hours of their time to write, despite not really having the time. So thank you to everyone for being so dang agreeable when I hassled you to write, and to those who sent in articles unsolicited. And thanks to my copy editor, Matt Nelson, for writing a ton and not complaining about me repeatedly asking him to copy-edit late on Monday night.
For me, it’s an end not only to my time as Etc. Editor, but also to my time as a student here, as I will (God willing) be handing my thesis in on Jan. 31. (Although I’ll still have a job at Regent until the summer so don’t plan my surprise Dante-themed going-away party just yet).
I’ve been reflecting lately—as one is wont to do when significant periods of one’s life come to an end—about what it is exactly that makes Regent a remarkable and important place, and something came to me as I was musing on the departure of Rikk Watts, who’s been such a staple here for so many years.
For me, it was a realization that, even though I wasn't always on the same page as Rikk, his presence here was a massively important part of my learning, not just because of the ways I did agree with him, but also because of the ways that he thoughtfully and faithfully represented points of view that I don’t personally hold. It was a vital part of my theological education to encounter expressions of the faith that span the spectrum of orthodoxy.
Because theology isn't learnt just from having pat answers passed down through the generations. The big questions need to be continually brought into dialogue within the Church. As Craig Gay has written, "Indeed, we find that we are only really able to see ourselves as reflected in our relations with others, with the world, and ultimately with God." Theology is not dead and static, but demands continual active engagement within relationship.
As we explore the mysteries of Christianity in community, we won’t come to the exact same conclusions on particulars. Part of our learning will always be a dialogue between truths which exist in friction, which sometimes are even going to emerge as straight-up paradox. And if our Christian educational institutions eliminate that reality by trying to seek doctrinal uniformity, then the true depths of Christian thought are in danger.
I’m glad Regent is an institution which understands this. I'm glad Regent is an institution that is healthy and wise enough to tolerate distinct and even opposing viewpoints. I don't know where else one would go to find this. I benefitted greatly from it, and I think every student who comes to Regent is bound to do the same.
It’s a difficult task to construct a community that is able to hold substantially different opinions within itself, and still maintain health. It’s an even more difficult task to do this while still holding firmly to the fundamentals of the ancient teachings of the Church, even while the surrounding culture veers in a different direction. Regent does both. And that’s one of many reasons why I’ll be proud to be a Regent alum.
Poet of the Week:
Summer squash, in steamed blocks, sits
by sweet white flesh of a red flash pear.
She pinches pieces with great care
that tumble from her unclosed lips.
Her cheeks puffed out, she concentrates,
then slaps the table with delight.
And soon she'll yawn and slump her weight,
when light draws lines through half-closed shades.
Now, is it unfitting
for a man to tend closely
to the ordinary meal of a child?
I still will tend closely,
and to this I do not yet feel reconciled.
For she was last year
just a speck in a womb
and she grew 'til it could not contain her.
Our wonder at her has now
burst through the film
which had made human birth seem familiar.
Local masters student a “full-grown man” despite Holiday tendencies
Local M.A. Doctrinal Theology student, Rich Pearson, 25, recently expressed to a close friend that he is a “full-grown man,” despite the evidence accumulated from his previous holidays away from the College.
Discussing their Christmas plans, Rich mentioned he would spend three weeks at his parent’s house in Murrayville, Manitoba. Rich explained to his friend that at home, he becomes a different person, and to someone who didn’t know the real him, they might not understand that he had established himself as a “deeply independent and spiritually mature person.”
Rich admitted that last year he typically unwrapped himself from his blue Luke Skywalker duvet and stumbled out of his childhood bedroom at around noon and merely grunted affirmation when his mother asked him if he would like eggs, bacon, and her classic kale-mango smoothie. Which was particularly difficult, said Rich, because he himself deeply values his eating and cooking routines as a spiritual practice, and can really “whip up a mean omelet these days.”
It was hard, he said, to be so thought-of, when the reality is that, thanks to his rigorous schedule of liturgical prayer, and his immersion in reading of spiritual classics, he “rarely thinks of [himself] these days”.
Shortly before press-time a local librarian reported that someone with a hat pulled down over his eyes, but whose library card identified him as Rich, had checked out the entire Harry Potter series on audio from the VPL. The librarian mentioned that he first confirmed with the librarian that it wouldn’t be due before the first day of winter classes.