Fall Issue 1
From the Editor | Ed Smith
Five Books with Paul Spilsbury | Ed Smith
The Dynamic Mass of Unknown Others (a.k.a. The Retreat) | Meredith Cochran
Regent and the Real World | Lisa López Smith
Pelagian Politics | Tim Tse
From the Editor | By Ed Smith
I have my parents to thank, and you have them to blame, for my taking on the position as editor of the Et Cetera. On a spring day in 1983, they chose to name me Edward Smith and from then on my fate was sealed. As it happens, a simple linguistic sleight of hand renders my name as Ed, Wordsmith and therefore when I first saw the editor job posting I knew that it was the write decision to apply. I wanted to put the Ed in editor. I want to make it abundantly clear, however, that it would be completely misguided to suggest that what I really wanted was a larger audience for telling puns. This is Regent College’s student newspaper andit is no place for puns. They’re called paronomasias. This is grad school after all, and why use a short, common word when there’s a longer, more arcane synonym with a distinguished Greek etymology?
Actually, as I hope you know, there’sa whole host of reasons to avoid showing off one’s intelligence and learning. The temptation may prove to be nearly irresistible at times but I have it on good authority that the temptation will not be more than you are able to endure. Regent College is not about gaining knowledge in order to show off. This is emphatically a good thing because otherwiseRegent tuition would represent terrible value for your money. If impressing people is what you’re after, a car will go further (and farther) thana degree from a theological graduate college. BMW’s turn heads more than an encyclopedic knowledge of the Desert Fathers. (I know, it’s inexplicable!)
This raises the question of what the purpose of studying at Regent College actually is. There is an easy answer to that question: Regent College exists to cultivate intelligent, vigorous, and joyful commitment to Jesus Christ, His Church, and His world. Of course, as any CTC TA will tell you, you don’t get full marks for just knowing the right answer, but for also engaging with it on a deeper level. What does it mean for me to be committed to Jesus and His Church? Who is Jesus and how is he relevant to my life? How do the things I learn in class relate to the way I interact with the world outside these doors? How can I be joyful when there are 300 pages of reading to do by Friday and it’s only the second week of classes and there’s that giant essay that’s just around the corner, there’s rain in the forecast and September’s budget has already been blown and it’s only 13 short weeks until final exams and papers? What am I doing here?
I have to assume that all of you have at least a superficial idea of what brought you here. But I hope that you have spent enough time wrestling with the question that you have a deep understanding of what you hope to gain from your time here. It’s an important question to deal with since without a clear understanding it is easy to get distracted or demoralized.
Furthermore, it’s worth having an answer for when the question inevitably arises in the midst of the mid-semester academic crisis that is seemingly an intrinsic part of a Regent degree. But in the midst of the busyness and stress, the laughter and the tears, it’s good to focus on the privilege and blessing of spending time within these walls.
For this reason I’d like to have various alumni contribute over the next few semesters to weigh in on how Regent has impacted their lives after graduation. This week I hope you will enjoy a piece written by a talented graduate of the Regent affiliated ReFrame course, who also happens to be my sister. I asked her to write because not only does she have some excellent things to say, but since she’s family I was able to guilt her into writing on very short notice while I was stressing about having enough content for this week’s edition.
Now let me extend a hearty welcome to all of you newcomers and a welcome back to all you returning students. I hope that God will richly bless you through your time studying here and that through your studies, you may be a blessing to others. I encourage you to read the Et Cetera and also contribute to the discussion, both in conversation with friends and with your own article submissions. Welcome. It’s good that you’re here.
Ed (that’s short for editor) Smith
Five Books with Paul Spilsbury
Last year the Et Cetera ran a series of interviews with various Regent faculty members asking them about some of their favourite books. Because I know that Regent students generally suffer from an excess of spare time and a lack of books to read, I thought it would be a good idea to continue with the column. I asked Paul Spilsbury, the new academic dean, if he would be willing to spend some time sharing some of his favourite books with Et Cetera’s readers, and he generously agreed. I failed to provide him with much notice and so he had to come up with five books pretty much off the top of his head.
ES: Hello Paul. I wonder if you could give us a list of five of your favourite books, or five books that have made an impact on your life.
PS: Well the first book—one that I would have to say—and one that I have read several times, is Augustine’s Confessions. It’s a bit of a standard one and you’ve probably heard it mentioned lots of times but the thing that I love about it is that it’s an example of somebody thinking through their life in a biblically saturated way and it’s a very philosophically interesting way as well. It’s this conversation between essentially himself—his soul and God. It’s a confession in that he reveals his sins but also he shows his way of thinking; it reveals his prejudices against certain people, it shows his intellectual biography. Along with that, and maybe it’s not allowed to squeeze an extra book in here, is his biography by Peter Brown. If you ever have a chance to read that it’s called Augustine of Hippo. That book is fabulous and you can read that on the side. Peter Brown is a fantastic Church historian and I try to read his stuff because I find it so interesting but the reason I read Peter Brown was because I was so interested in Augustine’s book.
And I also had some lectures by Henry Chadwick who is the guy who translated Augustine’s Confessions in the recent Oxford World’s Classics series. That was one of the reasons I got into Augustine and in my mind, Augustine looks like Henry Chadwick. Chadwick was a British polymath and Church historian. So that’s the first book, Augustine’s Confessions.
The second book is What is Ancient Philosophy by Pierre Hadot. I really love that book. He writes on ancient philosophy as a way of life. In other words, in the ancient world, when people were talking about philosophy, they weren’t talking about an intellectual or academic discourse. They were talking about a way of thinking about all of your life as a kind of thoughtful life, a life that’s been reasoned out. In the case of the stoics, this idea of a life that’s lived in accordance with reason and I just find it interesting, the way they tried to live their life in a coherent way. And the early Christians modeled their own apologetics to the Roman world on those kinds of thinkers, people like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. So Justin Martyr, in the Second Century, presents Christianity as a philosophy rather than a religion since religion was seen as a kind of cultic interaction between the worshipper and the God. You know, you make a deal, you kill a chicken, drip some blood. But when the apologists were trying to explain what Christianity was, it was more useful to talk about it as a philosophíathan a religio or something like that.
So there’s this intellectual engagement with the world around us but then there’s this very considered attempt to live your life out and that’s what the EarlyChristians thought they were doing too. They had notions about what was true in the world and it was very important that they lived that out. Things were completely hand-in-glove. You couldn’t have just a certain kind of discourse, certain ways of thinking and then not have a practical outflow. The Book of James is an example of Jewish philosophy that way. So anyway I like Pierre Hadot because he really opened up that way of thinking to me.
Then Robert Wilken is one of my favourite authors, again on the Early Church, but one book that really struck me as awesome was a book called The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and it’s about the Early Church’s reading of Scripture and the development of their theology in relation to Scripture and always guided by the overarching desire to seek the face of God. So it’s a kind of mystical reading Scripture, Christocentric reading of Scripture but always in alignment with their theology. So it’s a wonderful insight into how the early Christians were nourished by the Bible, and how they read the Old Testament in relationship to the New Testament.
So to me, it’s just a wonderfully rich book. And once I read that book by Robert Wilken it made me want to read everything that he’s written. I haven’t by any means but he’s written lots of books on the first four centuries, that’s kind of his thing.
Then, this is all sounding a bit ponderous maybe, but I love Blaise Pascal. So we’re jumping ahead, centuries later. One of the things I love about Pensées, is just the kind of vignette, nugget approach to things for when you don’t really want a sustained insight. Just give me a good thought, you know! He was brilliant, a mathematician, an inventor—one of those kinds of people. He has some cool things to say about things that seem strikingly contemporary. He talks about distraction, the problem of distraction. There’s a great little passage where he talks about people who love nothing better than to think of something to distract themselves with. They go hunting, you know, they get on a horse and chase an animal and that’s my problem except instead of going hunting it’s like “I’ll jump out and go talk to somebody” or check my email.
ES: The atrium is great for that, you can just go down there to find distractions.
PS: Yeah, stuff like that. But some of the stuff he says is pretty random and you go, “I don’t get that” but if you look in the book there’s lots of fascinating stuff. I like Pensées a lot.
ES: I think sometimes he gets written off because everybody knows him for Pascal’s Wager.
PS: Yeah but the Wager is actually an interesting thing. He was trying to find reasonable ways to think about faith and life. He was trying to show that a reasonable person would think this way about how to decide big questions where you don’t know the ultimate answer and you think “is it reasonable to think this way or that way?” If you guess that there’s no God that’s way worse than to have lived your life as if there is a God and there turns out not be one. In a sense you haven’t lost anything that way because there’s inherent good in living your life in obedience to the laws of God. So really it’s a reasonable way to look at things.
But I’m not saying that you have to agree with all these people about everything. There’s lots of stuff in Augustine where you think “okay, that’s dodgy” or you see that some of his views had negative repercussions in later centuries. But I admire the vigor of the mind and his way of looking at things.
So that’s four. Let me throw this in here, this is something completely different. And now for something completely different (I’m happy to report that this was indeed a clear and intentional Monty Python reference). I love the writings of Salman Rushdie. He’s a secular Muslim who’s famous for writing The Satanic Verses, and I’ve read that and I’ve read Midnight’s Children, which is a wonderful book, but the one that I would recommend to people is called Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It’s a fairy tale and it’s about freedom ofexpression and freedom of thought and it written at the time that he was under a fatwa for offending fundamentalist Muslims with his controversial book The Satanic Verses.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is about a child whose father is a storyteller and because of a crisis in his life, he freezes up and can’t tell stories anymore. And through a series of events he goes on a flying hoopoe to a different moon on which there’s a sea that’s full of stories but the stories have been corrupted. And he finds a way to purify the water so the stories can flow again. Haroun and the Sea of Stories is funny, it’s charming, it’s incredibly learned because it brings in western and eastern philosophy and ways of thinking, all of these poetic things. It’s full of puns and you have to imagine the whole thing in an Indian accent! It’s for you if you want something that’s thought provoking but fun and hilarious at times and not your typical Regent reading. It’s about the importance of stories and their value to culture. It’s an awesome book that I would recommend. My copy of it is hammered. I read it and then I told my wife we had to read it so I read it to her. We read it aloud and then we read it to our kids. I’ve read it at least those three times and maybe more and I’ve given it away as a gift. It’s very cool.
If you want a serious Rushdie book that’s not for kids, Midnight’s Children is a fabulous book. It won the Booker Prize in its year and then ten years later it won the so-called Booker of Bookers, for the best of the Booker Prize winners. It’s a wonderful book but really I’ve given you more than five.
The Dynamic Mass of Unknown Others (a.k.a. The Retreat) | Meredith Cochran
“Excuse me,” I said apologetically to the fifth person I side-swiped with my sleeping bag. The bus was crowded with passengers who did not seem to appreciate being jostled about my tent, two backpacks, and a plastic bag ripping with the weight of new textbooks I had shortsightedly purchased just before leaving campus. A few stops and some exasperated looks later, I tumbled out onto Broadway for the fifteen minute walk to meet the carpool I would be traveling with. I was on my way to the Regent Retreat. I had played it cool, of course, “Yeah, I think I might go… I’ve got some other things going on, we’ll see…” Though I had no idea what it meant when Claire used “keener” to describe me at Orientation, I sensed that it was not correlated with the cool-factor we were all trying so exhaustingly to exude in those first weeks—apparently some of us more effectively than others. In the end, I had spent some days considering the certain expectation of social anxiety that spending a weekend with lots of near-strangers would bring, and decided to risk it.
I arrived at the carpool to meet Steve Berkenpas, a tall and intimidating third year who had offered to fill his car with lonely first years for the drive to Warm Beach. What a guy! Major cool-factor increase. We rolled into camp, donned our name tags, and the weekend of communal Regenty togetherness began. Hold up—that statement alone is enough to prevent anyone from attending, which is the exact opposite of my intention, so let me try and rephrase. It was a weekend of eating and laughing side-by-side with profs and their families. A weekend of meeting
the spouses of friends from class and watching their kids play. A weekend of sleep-eyed-stumbling to 7am prayer in a peaceful little chapel overlooking the woods (don’t worry late risers, it’s optional). It is a weekend where, even imperceptibly, seeds of community are planted and you find yourself surprised at being now linked with people whose stories and homes are very different from your own. To be sure, the weekend includes plenty of “Hi, what’s your name again?” and “Hmm, where should I sit and who should I talk to?”, but, over the course of just a few days, you realize that the dynamic mass of unknown “others” has started to become individual people who now share a bit of your same story. And you might still feel lonely, but you’re a little less alone.
So, permission not to be cool. Permission to miss your old friends and family. Permission to try playing soccer or rugby alongside pros and professors even though you don’t know where on the field to stand or any of the rules. Permission to cry a little (or a lot) and feel pretty uncertain. Permission to laugh or not laugh at all the theological jokes made during the variety show, when you still have no idea what most of them mean. Permission to say hi to the handsome guy from your language class that you smile at awkwardly near the spaghetti sauce at dinner on the first night. Permission to take a walk by yourself when you need it. Permission to wonder what God has in mind for this particular year, with these particular people, in this particular place. And permission to hope that it is good.
Regent and the Real World | Lisa López Smith
1. What program did you do at Regent?
Let me start with a full disclosure: I’ve actually only been inside Regent College once, back in 2011. The occasion was a day-long session which was part of the ReFrame course. ReFrame, a course put on by the Marketplace Institute, with lectures given by Regent professors, was offered through the church I was attending in Vancouver. ReFrame’s goal is to help Christians connect faith with all aspects of their lives in our increasingly complex modern world. The course was about ten weeks long, and it certainly whetted my appetite for taking more classes at Regent one day.
2. What have you been doing since leaving Regent?
Since ReFrame 2011, there have been a lot of big changes. My second son was born, and when he was just four months old, my husband and I picked up with the three -year-old, and we moved to a small town in central Mexico. We’ve settled into life here, where we host an ever-fluctuating number of street dogs. I also finished my Masters degree in the area of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, volunteered with an organization helping migrants riding the train north, and have also been busy writing and making art as much as possible. However, I suspect that many of these exterior achievements are somewhat inconsequential in contrast to the changes that have been happening inside me since I took ReFrame.
3. How have the things you learned while studying at Regent impacted your day to day living now that you’re in the “real world”?
I think the tagline for ReFrame at one time was ‘the story that changes everything.’ The truth of the matter is that it did change everything for me, and in that sense, ReFrame achieved its goals beyond measure. Maybe it was just the perfect timing of when I took the course, but since then, nothing has been the same. As someone who spent much more of my time ‘out in the world’ than in a traditional sort of churchy-sized bubble, I think I had spent years trying to avoid identifying myself as a Christian because of the tough stereotypes out there of what a Christian is like. But then, throughout the course, when this story was reframed so intelligently and so beautifully, I became caught up in it in a way I had never experienced before. It was simply the most compelling and powerful story I had ever heard and I was so excited to be a part of it.
I was moved by the course in one particular way that was quite unexpected. Professor Rikk Watts had given a retelling of one of the parables in the lecture on Jesus, and it moved me, and most of the audience I believe, to tears. But it also fired up an interest in the parables, at once so familiar in all their churchy teachings, at the same time so foreign and profound as we dig into cultural and historical contexts. I decided to take a closer look at some of the weirdest and most interesting parables, with careful research, looking at translation, history, ministry context and perceptions of the listeners.
Then, much like Professor Watts did, I tried to do a creative revisiting of these stories in order to give the same sort of impact to a modern audience that Jesus must have done for the original listeners. My little investigation turned into a book which I published in 2014, and really, how I—the somewhat reluctant Christian—ended up with a book about Jesus’ parables still surprises me. However, the process of researching and writing those stories moved me in such profound and unexpected ways as I learned more. I was blown away by the Jesus I met in the parables, and I still get unbelievably excited when talk of the Kingdom comes up. The way that faith has come to touch every part of my life is something so new and unexpected, and something that I had actually never experienced before despite growing up in an evangelical setting.
The other unexpected impact that ReFrame had on my life was around vocation. As someone with a graduate degree and loads of international experience, I had expected that my career path would easily open up for me into all sorts of great professional positions. So, when I found myself as ‘just a mom,’ with the inanity of never-ending housework, the challenges of life with small ones, as well as living in a place with few career opportunities, and minimal community, I often struggled. However, the powerful story of the Kingdom which I learned about in ReFrame kept coming back to me. As we await the fulfillment of the Kingdom, as we work on becoming more fully human, day by day, there is so much to learn through the struggle and beauty of life: of wiping noses and dishes, of making lunches and word-crafting, of loneliness and community building, I am ever-more amazed by the role I get to play in all of this. My life is actually truly rich in Kingdom work. Being a kind neighbour to local kids desperate for affection is Kingdom work, making good meals for my family is Kingdom work, creating my novel and my art is Kingdom work, and even caring for stray puppies is Kingdom work. I sweep my porch and read with my kids and that is Kingdom work. Vocation in this phase of my life is not at all what I thought it would be, and my life is a thousand times richer for it because I lean on the story that has changed everything and will change everything.
4. Do you have any advice for people currently studying here?
Sure, my advice is absolutely worth every penny as you pay me for it!:
Please, back up your files. Fight study overwhelm by just taking one breath (and one task) at a time. Get to know the Mexico beyond the beaches and margaritas. Shower yourself in self-compassion regularly. Read the Regent newspaper! Spay/neuter your pets for pete’s sake… this world does not need anymore unwanted animals. As for graduate study assignments, don’t let perfection get in the way of good, given the heavy and contradicting demands on your time, energy, and money. What else? Remember that God loves you (and everyone else) even more than you think!
Pelagian Politics | Tim Tse
As a millennial, and moreover a Mennonite, I am often told that I should get more involved politically, especially since there is a Canadian election looming. More often than not, however, what they actually mean relies on a narrow definition of politics with Pelagian assumptions about the capacities of the nation-state. Churchill’s old truism, that“democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” seems all but forgotten.
Canadians, after all, place much more faith in the democratic system than in the beliefs that uphold that democratic system. These are not necessary corollaries, as places like Afghanistan and Iraq show. The fact that we can trust our military to refrain from throwing a coup, for example, is integral to the Canadian democratic system (contra Thailand).
Our democratic system is defined, however, by failure, since it is a zero sum competition. For every political winner, there must be a political loser. One would hope that such a system could be used to sift through the available political candidates in order to determine which was most suited to effective governance, but there are certain side effects to the fact that elections are a frequent occurrence. They have become (as many things in our culture) quite sensationalist. Every election needs to be more important than the last; every campaign a matter of life, death, and national identity; every politician, a demon or a saint. There is no ability to nuance modern political discourse, because to nuance it would be to preclude its importance, its urgency (propaganda works through the same short-circuiting of reason). As such, our current political discourse excludes the idea of failure by necessity, except as a way of slandering opponents. In contrast to the other guy, our candidate cannot fail, will not fail, if only you elect him (or her, but probably him, at least in Canada). And, perhaps more importantly, our government will not fail; it will be able to accomplish all that it was elected to do. After all, why elect a failure?
There is a certain Pelagian element to this political myth, and hence in the way campaigns are run. If only we could (re)elect Harper/Trudeau/Mulcair/May, then the damage done by Harper/Trudeau/Mulcair/May would be solved. If only we had more/fewer taxes (choose one) on the rich/corporations/oil extraction (choose one), then poverty/unemployment/the environmental crisis (choose one) would be solved. If I was not told that Canada was a secular country, I would be inclined to describe a kind of messianism in certain factional quarters.
This is of course absurd, and will not stand up to any scrutiny. It is highly unlikely, for example, that any one political candidate is competent in the areas social policy, international relations, economics, healthcare, the military, and law. It is highly unlikely that a candidate has no personal failings. It is more likely that a political party has all the requisite skill, but even so, they are but human. As it turns out, only God is God, and all others mere imposters.
Moreover, the messianic (or demonic) capacity of any individual political candidate (or party) is actually quite limited, since the ability to actually change things within a governmental system is far less than most people imagine it to be. Western governments, by and large, are not designed for rapidity of change. Canada has a tripartite system in order keep checks and balances on power, after all. (The efficacy of the legislative branch may be debated, but its slowness in general seems indisputable. Rapidity seems to be the jurisdiction of the courts, who, of course, are not elected.)
And once governmental decisions have been made, it is not altogether easy to reverse them, for better or for worse. After the Canadian abortion laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988, the government has never been able to reinstitute any abortion law. As a result, Canada is one of a handful of countries in the world without abortion law at all. Similarly, Senate reform is impossibly slow; according to Wikipedia, that is an issue which predates Confederation itself.
There is finally the distinct possibility that the government will not be able to accomplish the platform on which it was elected, since governments, for all their power, are not gods. Recall the American government shut down in 2013. Or the global recession caused by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Or any of a long list of political promises. Mere will does not translate to reality; mere promises do not translate to results.
Already, I can hear the counterclaim that I am advocating a Mennonite quietism (as though Mennonites have actually been uniform or quiet throughout their history). I am not at all saying that one ought not be involved politically; one must absolutely be involved, for if the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Gk. kurios) has no political meaning, then it has no meaning at all. But to suggest that politics is defined by modern nation-states, to believe the messianic pretence of the modern political campaign, is a trap that Christians of the left and right fall prey to. No, this election is probably not the most important one ever. No, this election will probably not singlehandedly cause the resurgence/demise of Canada, regardless of who wins. It is equally unlikely that Harper/Mulcair/Trudeau/May is actually the messiah or the antichrist. Even if they were, they’d need more than a seat in government could offer them in order to enact changes for good/evil.
In contrast, Christianity is openly messianic. What’s more, unlike our modern nation-state, our messiah has already come, and requires no SuperPACs. Christian politics must therefore be distinct from that of the nation. Offer a pinch of incense to Caesar at the ballot box, but do not equate that with the totality of politics, or even the majority of politics. We who are Christian hail from a different city.
[Photograph used with permission. Unsplash: Joel Peel ]