2017 Fall Issue 3
The Importance of Play
by: Andrew Wilson
Why do we feel guilty when we take a break, when we play? We think that we are taking time away from something more important. Important things have time dedicated to completing them. There is only so much time in the day to get things done. When the topic of play comes up, people think that it is something reserved for children to take part in. Only children can play because they do not have regular responsibilities. It’s a waste of time, some say. We aren’t really doing anything when we play, right? We aren’t attending to the needs of other people or the responsibilities at hand.
That kind of a perspective on play is the result of a worldview which says the we need to be doing something or working towards something in order to be someone. It’s a perspective that finds personhood in the midst of work. Christianity has an entirely different perspective—our personhood is found in belonging to Christ. We do not need to achieve anything to be labelled as persons.
Then why play? Playing is an act of defiance. We are fighting against a need to defend ourselves by constantly needing to list particular accomplishments so we can find security. Our identity in the world is not secured by that. We are pushing back against spending time by saving time. In a sense we are renewing the time we have by enjoying the things that the Lord has made.
Graham Neville, in his book Free Time: Towards a Theology of Leisure, has this to say about play. “[Playing] is a way of knowing God, knowing what he has made me to be, and knowing, in the silence which follows when competitiveness is shut out, the God who has given me free time as a gracious gift.” To engage in play that is free from the constraints of time and structure, we must be at ease with our attention being diverted. One who has been conditioned by play does not feel guilty when their mind wanders to something new. Playing creates space in which you can think about your relationship with God apart from the conventional ways that you engage with him, such as in prayer or worship or Bible reading at a church. Play lets you simply be with God; it helps to strip away any preconceived notions about who you are when you do things.
An African Christian in Queen Lizzy’s Colony
by: Trust Matsilele
Perhaps, I am the least qualified person to write for this newsletter for two principle reasons. First, I consider myself an outsider with regards to the the core of the philosophy guiding more than most of the articles I have read here, that is, the Western ontological Christian experience.
I say “Western ontological Christian experience” deliberately because that’s what it is. Christianity is what the dominant culture in any society makes it to be. If one is in the Western world, it is what Western culture makes it to be. The same could be said of Asia or Africa or elsewhere.
Secondly, I am aware that writing for this newsletter comes with a burden or responsibility, to use the much-used term in contemporary American politics, that is political correctness.
On political correctness, I am aware that I am writing this article in a culture and society that, to an extent, seems to over-celebrate tolerance ahead of any other virtue. I raised these two aspects early because I intend not to uphold them but rather challenge them as I explain some of the shocks I experienced as an African Christian student in Canada.
So, sometime on my second week or third in Canada I was invited to the Monastery for a freshmen party. Since the Monastery is a house sheltering Regent students I expected to see a Christian party. The few parties I had been to in Africa had sodas and juices as drinks and of course barbecued meat. I doubt if there is any non-vegetarian African who would attend a party of any sorts without meat.
To my surprise this party had bottomless beer. This was a surprise because those drinking were, to my understanding, supposed to be both Christians and Christian students. I was wrong, they were not. I stayed the whole night drinking coke with some rare occasions of dancing. I am no great dancer but as an African I felt like the most skilled that night. Few whites can move their bodies. Apologies.
Beer or alcohol is for non-believers, I was told growing up. Those who get born again are expected to stop imbibing these and if not, they get either excommunicated or treated as not fully born again. To see seminary students drinking, for me, was a shock. I didn’t have scriptures to back up my philosophy but I had my experience and my culture to cite as my point of reference.
I had seen pagans who had come to faith testify how the power of the cross had freed them from beer. My friend Ross would ask, so African Christians don’t drink beer? Yes, I would answer him.
Other than beer, another shock awaited me. On a Sunday morning I dressed up, as an African Christian should. Formal shirt, formal pants, polished shoes and kempt hair. This was the standard growing up, it remains like that to this day. When I went to church I expected, somehow, to see everyone dressed like me. I was, to my surprise, the odd one out. For the first time, I felt uncomfortable dressing like a Christian. An African Christian. It was summer so most male congregants wore shorts and sandals. If anything, I knew that a male Christian goes to church with a pair of trousers and shoes.
The church was supposed to have been a Pentecostal church. So, I expected a degree of rowdiness. This again turned out not to be a Pentecostal church. I was suddenly out of place in a place I was supposed to belong. These three experiences both opened my eyes and at the same time closed them.
What I had characterised as true Christianity was being challenged. I was in some cultural shock. If anything, I knew I wasn’t going to change anything and if anything at all, it would be me that changed. These experiences have, in a way, helped shape or rather re-shape my worldview.
There is no one-size-fits-all, anywhere. What works in Canada might not necessarily work in Africa—this is true about everything on matters of faith. I wanted to defend what I was socialised into and at the same time felt I needed to question and challenge what I had believed all my life. I was wrong, I didn’t need to change anything. I just had to embrace my new reality—I was in Canada and not in Africa.
Critical Self-Reflection on the Relationship with Scripture
by: Tim Kuhn
I was born and raised in a Baptist family and in a Baptist church. Normally, before having lunch, a devotional similar to Our Daily Bread would be read out loud, always including at least one Bible verse. During my childhood, on Sunday mornings, my father used to take my brothers and me to Sunday School, whether we were willing or not. There, I was introduced to biblical stories in simplified form. The sermon on Sunday evenings, practically always based on the Bible, was a pacemaker in the life of my family. I was baptized at approximately eleven and decided that it was proper for a baptized person to get acquainted with the Bible, as I learned in church and especially from my father. So, I got a version in Portuguese (I am Brazilian) roughly equivalent to the King James Version and began at Genesis 1:1. My expectation was to find something like a manual. According to my imagination, the first chapters would be about how to construct the church building. Imagine my puzzlement when I started reading about the beginning of the universe. Not even a teenager, I was struggling with an archaic version of the Bible and asking myself, among other things, why God did not write it more clearly. It felt like trying to drink concentrated juice. Later on, I discovered the Brazilian version of the Living Bible and it was a great relief. I could understand so much more! However, my enthusiasm was quenched when my pastor warned me that it was only a paraphrase. Adding to the problem was the lack of context for reading Scripture, characteristic of my tradition. I knew little about the Ancient Near East and about Church history between the first century and the Reformation. Because this knowledge could only come from extra-biblical sources, it was considered second-class, fallible, or just plain misleading.
Besides, my ecclesiastical background was not only Puritan but also Revivalist, heavily influenced by Charles Finney (although his name remains largely unknown in my denomination). That is to say, a significant use of the Bible was to appeal emotionally to the hearers in order to encourage them “to make a decision for Christ,” more or less according to the model of a Billy Graham crusade. For the private reading of the Bible this approach translated into an expectation of obtaining an application for the life of the contemporary reader from every passage of Scripture, even if it was a genealogy. My personal experience was to find many passages totally beyond my understanding, but I was rarely willing to admit it. What I often would do was to short-circuit the process to try and find an application. On the other hand, many passages that I did not find hard to understand had pretty obvious applications in my life. As Mark Twain put it, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” However, when I tried to put them into practice I would find out that my whole being, body, soul and spirit, would rebel and prevent me from doing this.
In elementary and high school, it was weird to talk about the Bible, let alone to be seen with a Bible or reading it. My non-Christian peers and friends normally would react with indifference or disdain. Besides, in Brazil, where I have lived most of my life, the religious environment was predominantly nominal Catholicism. My father still tends to think that Baptists have a special place in Heaven and that Catholics are basically idolaters. However, that worldview soon became too narrow for me and I started to investigate more. After some years I discovered the Fathers of the Church (Saint Augustine still occupies a unique place in my heart). In them, I found something similar to what I was looking for, in the sense of diluting the “concentrated juice” of the Bible in order to be able to drink it. However, the problem remains of how much of their allegorical interpretation is acceptable.
Finally, it was a refreshing surprise to discover the Orthodox tradition. This heritage is not very well known in Brazil, so it was the last of the three Christian branches that I met. Their interpretation of the Bible seems to give balance to the polarization between Catholics and Protestants. Also, Orthodox priests seem to encourage (without discouraging frequent reading of the Bible) the admission of the experience of not understanding what the text says. In other words, it is not unusual to fail to understand some passage of Scripture and to live with that, at least for a while.
All this to invite your reflection, dear reader: How should the children of Christians in the future be educated about the Bible?
The R&J Review
In today’s column, we will discuss Blade Runner 2049 (2017, dir. by Denis Villeneuve), the highly anticipated sequel to Blade Runner (1982, dir. by Ridley Scott). Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.
J: I walked out of the movie theatre somewhat disappointed in the movie. Perhaps I was expecting too much. I loved the universe and mood created in the original Blade Runner, as well as the questions it raised of what it means to be a “real” human and whether one can know one’s being and reality; I appreciate the lasting influence of Blade Runner on near-future sci-fi content from movies to video games to comics; and Drive—which also features Ryan Gosling exhibiting a reduced range of human emotion and piloting a vehicle around Los Angeles, as well as a synth-heavy soundtrack—is one of my all-time favorite films.
R: Yeah. It was hard not to come with a lot of expectations. It especially difficult when the movie was a sequel to such a great and influential film. Also putting folks like Denis Villeneuve and Ryan Gosling on the film, whose stars seem to be on the perpetual rise, along with the massive budget this thing racked up, I wouldn’t say you’d be wrong to expect a lot from the movie. What was exactly that you felt it was lacking?
J: My two main criticisms of the movie are the acting and the editing. Regarding acting—from the opening scene, which pits Ryan Gosling’s character against a character portrayed by Dave Bautista, I felt that Gosling wasn’t the right actor for the role. In that scene, Gosling acts while Bautista is. From Bautista, I can sense the scars and losses of his character, whereas from Gosling, I can see that he’s wearing a thick trench coat. And throughout the movie, I just didn’t think Gosling had the gravitas to match the scale and philosophical weight of the world and situations created in the film.
Regarding editing, I think the movie could have been much leaner, to its benefit. There were several scenes that indulgently showed off the technology of the world of Blade Runner 2049, and those scenes could have been trimmed to about 10% of their running length. The fight scene between Gosling and Harrison Ford’s characters was long and pointless. That whole sequence could have been excised. Also, there’s a scene where Gosling’s character sets off a tripwire in Ford’s residence, causing an explosion within the residence. First, what kind of home security system blows up a portion of your own home? And second, that scene also added nothing to the movie and could have been omitted.
R: Yeah those are really good critiques. I feel like I can forgive a lot of the editing, the extended fight scenes, and the few Michael Bay-esque explosions, because after all it is a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster. And hidden deep beneath all that noise the film is exploring a lot of interesting ideas like objectification/commodification, environmental issues, playing god, being human, memory, and fate, etc. So I think there is some depth in the film to explore and reexamine which I appreciate. Concerning your criticism of Gosling’s acting and his lack of gravitas—I’m wondering if this has anything to do with what I’m terming the “dreamboat phase.” Since The Notebook, the dude has been an entire generation’s token white boy dreamboat. I mean that’s what the whole “Hey Girl” meme is about. If you think about someone like former dreamboat Leonardo DiCaprio, who had to grow a gnarly beard, get his throat slashed by bear, and sleep inside a dead horse to get an Academy award, it seems like it takes a lot of distance and a good bit of fake blood makeup to emerge (much like emerging from a dead horse) from the “dreamboat phase.”
J: It’s interesting that you mention Leonardo DiCaprio as a comparison. He’s an actor who I also think does not have sufficient on-screen gravitas. For both Gosling and DiCaprio, I think the lack of on-screen gravitas, rather than being due to their dreamboat status, is due to their having become professional actors at a young age—for Gosling, it was joining The Mickey Mouse Club at age 12; for DiCaprio, it was joining the TV series Parenthood at age 15—and thus missing out on a lot of “real life” that most people live through day upon day, year upon year. Regarding your list of issues and ideas posed by/in Blade Runner 2049, vis-à-vis the quality of the story of Blade Runner 2049, I felt that 2049 was approached as, “We have to make a sequel that scratches at ‘big ideas’ and ‘complicated issues,’ and then make it good,” rather than, “We have a good story that, as it develops in the hands and mind of the filmmakers, naturally raises big ideas and complicated issues,” which is the feeling I get after watching the original Blade Runner.
R: Fair enough. Well I think that’ll have to do for this week’s review. All this talk of gravitas (I still don’t know what that word means) is making me hungry. Thanks J.
Dear St. John Chrysostom,
At the cèilidh at the fall retreat I really noticed how inadequate my dance skills were. I mean I really embarrassed myself out there. I’ve even heard rumors that there’ll be dancing at the RCSA Christmas party. Do you have any advice about how to improve my dancing ability?
Where dancing is, there is the evil one. For neither did God give us feet for this end, but that we may walk orderly: not that we may behave ourselves unseemly, not that we may jump like camels (for even they too are disagreeable when dancing).
Hope that helps,
Fireworks of Grace
a poem by: Anonymous
Fireworks of grace, a follower’s place,
Seedling faith at quickening pace,
Swells of passion, prayers of praise,
Mighty over death and grave.
Here begins the conscious fight,
Certain hope comes not by sight,
Life makes hard this joyous strife,
Tossed around in wind and night.
A cauldron of emotion, the serpents potion,
Criticising every motion,
I hear him gloating, “become all knowing,”
Deceptive plans to fault devotion.
Contest: Spirit and flesh, dominion to the best,
Silent battle surrounds the mess,
Times of trouble, peace, then rest,
Seasoned faith—believe, confess.
I see redemption’s story, glimpse of glory,
Fleeting pleasures no more console me,
Deeper joy comes every morning,
Father’s call, “my son, I know thee.”
His Word as pure and daily food,
The man who called himself The Truth,
Treasured cross in centre view,
My mind, my heart, my soul renewed.
Wells of overflowing splendour,
Power so fearsome, love so tender,
Eternity in blessed surrender,
Satisfied, fulfilled forever.