Category Archives: Christ & Culture in Canada

Every hour counts: a call to create beauty and other great things well

Prof. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. delivered the following message in the academic chapel of Crandall University this September. We thought Faith Today readers, who know Stackhouse from his books and our pages, would appreciate this encouragement to use our time right to create lasting beauty and recognize the “daily-ness” of life.

“The lif so short, the craft so long to lerne.” In his famous poem “The Parliament of Fowls,” Geoffrey Chaucer quotes the ancient Greek sage Hippocrates to tell us something not only about literature, but about life. Life is indeed short when one considers how long it takes to learn how to—

How to what?

Prof. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a columnist in Faith Today, shares a vision for using our time very well.

How to do anything truly important and worthwhile. To compose a poem, yes, which is what Chaucer initially means. But also to do anything else in life that is of lasting significance.

To build a bridge that will stand strong and look beautiful for generations. To run a business—a business that provides useful and dignified work as it contributes something beneficial to the world. To form and maintain a marriage—a relationship of mutual care and perpetual stability within which children can grow up secure, confident, and wholesome.

Ryan Holiday in a recent book (Perennial Seller) provides some examples of what it takes to produce something special:

  • The Sistine Chapel took four years to paint. Four years. The planning and the building took even longer.

To be sure, that was back in the Renaissance. We move much faster nowadays, right?

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Kim’s Convenience Creator Reflects on his background as a theology student

Ins Choi is a Wycliffe College graduate and the creator behind the hit CBC show Kim’s Convenience.

Ins Choi (IC) is an actor and a playwright, who has been called “Canadian Theatre’s breakout star.” His award-winning play “Kim’s Convenience” has been adapted for television and is a new hit for CBC.

But in the halls of Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, Choi is remembered in part for his creative take on reading assignments for his theology classes. Choi graduated with a Master of Theological Studies from  Wycliffe, an evangelical Anglican theological college affiliated with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Wycliffe’s magazine Insight interviewed Choi recently about what a theological education meant to his development as an artist.

Here at the Faith Today blog, we thought it would be fun to reprint the interview with the creative mind behind the television show that many Canadians are loving.

You come from a long line of pastors. Is that where Wycliffe enters the story? Were you going to be a pastor as well?

IC: My father’s older brother was a pastor, his youngest sister, my grandfather, five cousins are pastors. It’s a pretty pastoral family. 

I wrote a play called “Subway stations of the Cross.” In that play, which is really more of a spoken word piece, with song, I talk about what made me, me. And in that story is this back and forth relationship with pastoral ministry –  a call to be a pastor professionally and at the same time my call to be an artist, to be a writer, a performer, an actor. It’s a long story and it’s the content of that show. I struggled with both. After I went to York for acting I went to Wycliffe, I began an MDIV but I transferred out of it and ended up with an MTS. I did this while being a children’s pastor at a church for about five or six years. I was at Wycliffe for about four years, semi-part time as I was trying to juggle an acting schedule and trying to get gigs at the same time.

Did studying theology make you a better artist?

IC: It made me a better writer. That was a discipline I didn’t have, the craft of writing. I was never that academic in high school, but being at Wycliffe I was forced to read a lot, and try to be clearer about what I read, and what my thoughts were about what I read. It was that scholarly activity, which is reading and reflection and trying to be precise with words.
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Memories of the Christian Brethren

In the current issue of Faith Today, columnist John G. Stackhouse, Jr. promised additional reflections on growing up in an otherworldly evangelical community. Here they are.

Son of the Brethren, John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Growing up evangelical is a gift horse whose mouth John Stackhouse is willing to look straight into.

Because I spent the first twenty years of my life “among the Brethren,” as we’d say – including three of those years in the actual town of Plymouth, England, so I have been a real Plymouth Brother – I have far too many memories to recite here. Lest my column appear to be coldly analytical toward my heritage, however, or even unappreciative of it, let me recite a few tales of what it was like to grow up in the Canadian version of this global movement.

The Bible was a Big Deal. We had rituals regarding its use, although we would never have used the term “ritual,” tarred as that word was by association with Roman Catholics.

(Indeed, Roman Catholicism was the great “Other” for us, the trumped-up counterfeit of authentic Christianity. We believed that Roman Catholicism was all we were not – which was, indeed, perhaps true even in ways we hadn’t recognized! But we never knew enough about it to consider just how it was “other.” We just knew it was Not Us, and therefore bad. As we clever teenagers learned to say in mockery of our elders’ warnings, “I’m ignorant of the subject, but I know it’s wrong.”)

Anyhow, our rituals were many when it came to the Bible. We never let it touch the floor, nor would be put another book on top of it. In particular, we were trained to memorize Scripture – and word-for-word with the chapter-and-verse reference.

I have found this heritage invaluable as a theological teacher. Just yesterday, a student in class tried to make a point by citing a fragment of Scripture. Another student corrected him by reciting the verse in question . . . but left off the last phrase, which reversed entirely the meaning he was attributing to it. Because of my father’s insistence that one learn Scripture “cold,” I recognized the omission and we got things sorted out before more theological harm was done!

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Why Admonition Is Such a Great Idea

By John G. Stackhouse Jr.

Hello there, reader. I’d like to admonish you.

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“Why would Paul feel he had to command us to respect and esteem very highly in love those who have charge over us?” – John Stackhouse

“Certainly not!” you might retort.

But then you might continue, “Uh, what does ‘admonish’ actually mean? And why do you want to do that to me?”

As most Canadian churches continue to struggle in the light of the steady de-Christianization of Canada (the last census says we’re down to just 67 per cent of the population identifying as “Christian” from 83 per cent 20 years ago), we worry about the state of our religion.

Regular church attendance, tithing, Bible reading – these practices, pollsters suggest, mark a small minority of the North American population, as low as one in five.

All of this is familiar enough to Faith Today readers. From Paul’s oldest letter in the New Testament, however, comes a practice that might seem esoteric even to most serious, church-going, tithe-bringing, Bible-reading Christians today: admonition.

Put “admonition” alongside its companions “exhortation” and “reproof,” and the puzzlement only deepens. But these and similar words show up throughout Paul’s letters.

It is hard though to imagine a set of activities less congenial to Canadian Christianity today.
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Don’t Be Horrified At Christian Conflict

By John G. Stackhouse Jr.

“Our steady resolve not to learn anything very much different from what we currently think we know shows up in families, churches, and other societies as the horrified repression of all conflict.” -John Stackhouse

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a nice way of saying, “We don’t generally bother to think new things until circumstances compel us to do so.”

Organizations die that aim only at being “five per cent better than last year.” Teams get beat by running the same plays that worked well last season. Generals lose wars, as the saying goes, by skillfully fighting the last one. Why are we not more creative?

Creativity comes in response to a challenge, not to a cloudless day at the beach. Innovation arises out of the threat of competition or obsolescence, not out of a board meeting filled with mutual congratulations on another job adequately done.

The great English preacher John Stott used to testify occasionally to his “struggle to think Christianly” about the issues facing his congregation and his nation – and, indeed, of global Christianity. Such intellectual wrestlings were provoked by what Stott called “PIM” – namely, “pain in the mind.”

It was a phrase beloved of certain English evangelical intellectuals in the mid-20th century (Lesslie Newbigin liked it too), who were constantly working to get their minds around Scripture and tradition and reason and revelation and church and world. Thinking new thoughts was, even for these brilliant leaders, often not so much joyful artistry as sorrowful discipline (Hebrews 12:11).

How much more pleasant it is to avoid pain, including “pain in the mind.” How much more comfortable and comforting it is to encounter a new thought or a novel practice and dismiss it out of hand. How much time do we spend instead visiting websites, listening to podcasts, watching programs, viewing videos, and reading books and magazines that only reinforce what we already think?

Our steady resolve not to learn anything very much different from what we currently think we know shows up in families, churches, and other societies as the horrified repression of all conflict. Indeed, in some Christian traditions the presence of conflict is simply equated with the presence of the devil. Christians, after all, are supposed to be unified, and conflict in its essence is disunity.
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The Madcap World Of Creativity in Canadian Christian Organizations

By John G. Stackhouse Jr.

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Let me introduce you to Sharon. She is a change agent, a questioner, a critic. She asks “why” a lot, and suggests alternatives to almost everything we do – even things we have done the same way for years. She’s usually polite, but sometimes she’s uncomfortably direct, even a bit sharp and impatient.

And Sharon is persistent. If she doesn’t get a satisfactory answer, she sometimes drops the matter temporarily, but you can be sure she will ask again the next time the subject comes up. She’s clearly talented and achieves at a high level. But she certainly does disturb the space around her.

We’ve decided, for the good of the group – you know, the sense of unity, co-operation, common vision, camaraderie – Sharon has to go. She will be terminated this Friday with the quickest and quietest exit we can engineer.

Now let me introduce you to Greg. Frankly, Greg is a charming failure. He’s always ready to say hello, eager to engage in small talk and quick with a smile. He works long hours and listens well to everyone. He promises to make amends when mistakes or shortcomings are pointed out to him, and he never directly challenges anyone.

His work, however, is actually pretty bad. He consistently fails to meet targets. He has alienated many of the people who work most closely with him because of his incompetence. The job is clearly too big for him, although he never acknowledges it is, and instead always seems to have an excuse at hand.

We’ve decided, for the good of the group – you know, the sense of unity, co-operation, common vision, camaraderie – we’ll keep putting up with Greg. We’ll work around him, put some of his responsibilities on others, and set lower, more reachable goals for him.

Some organizations prize innovative thinking, “creative disruption,” straight talk and a quest for excellence. Others value mutual reinforcement of the status quo, avoidance of conflict, soothing euphemisms and a quest for “comfortableness.” Why does it seem that the latter culture is far more common among Christian organizations than the former?
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Living Day by Day When it is More Difficult Than Ever

by John G. Stackhouse Jr.

Oil prices recently sank to a four-year low and the International Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.30.01 AMEnergy Agency, a consultancy to 29 countries, predicts they will fall further in the year to come. As Canada’s economy depends so much on oil production, our petrodollar is only in the “high 80s” and likely to drop further. Remember when our dollar was at par with the American, and oil prices were expected to go up and up, and Alberta’s tar sands looked like a really mucky gold mine?

Who foresaw the new Russian czar risking war to annex parts of Ukraine? Who predicted ISIS’ reign of terror? Who, besides some paranoid screenwriters, imagined something like Ebola making its way out into the rest of the world?

At the end of interviews on a recent event or trend, journalists customarily ask the experts on the hot seat to predict the future. This practice continues even though we all recognize that no one will remember what they said and hold it against them five years from now, so they can say what they like. And no one can infallibly predict what will happen five months or five weeks or five days from now, so now it really doesn’t matter what they say.

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