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A Personal Note on Psychology (LONG READ)

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Authorial Note: The importance of counselling in my future ministry endeavours will be so great that this blog would be bereft if I did not chronicle how it has become so.  The account here has been a difficult undertaking, requiring a reconfiguring of my sense of self with the worry of losing that self. It has required digging through painful experiences that much wiser or perhaps less brave souls would not encounter again. But I cannot apologize for writing this, as personally revealing as it is, because it is the story of how in reconnecting with my soul of how I have reconnected with the lover of my soul.

      Depersonalization. Stress. Depression. Self-Punishment. All of these emotions and psychological states, which never even registered on my radar of intellectual inquiry, in the summer of 2017 took everything from me. O.C.D., turns out to have been just the tip of the iceberg of psychological understanding that God deemed me strong enough to learn about and prepare myself for encountering in the pursuit of my vocation. “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”, a phrase often falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis, was not a mere apologetic quip for me. Before O.C.D. and before the summer of 2017, having a rational intellect that stood above and was more important than my body, was an unexamined assumption I had based my entire life on. Diet, exercise, clothing, memory, environment, were ‘vain’ in importance, in comparison to one’s thought life.images.jpeg Evangelical morality can often come with a Cartesian dualistic assumption of a separation of mind and body, but what psychology, being attentive to one’s body and one’s lived experience asserts even more forcefully is that while the mind is distinct from the body, it is never separated. When our bodies are not well, our brains are not well, and the life of the mind suffers. Our emotions waging war within our psyches do not have the dominance that people often think they have, but to imagine that they do not live in a relationship with one’s thoughts will blind one to their power.

      With regards to last summer, guilt accompanied the difficulties, thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad. But, how we feel about our lives, surprise surprise, does not change according to objective reason, especially not by the logics of guilt or shame. Our emotions are frequently informed by (1) our expectations on ourselves, (2) the expectations of others on us, (3) our dreams about our future, and (4) idealizations of our past. It’s the difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty, between being poor in the objective sense, and the feeling that one is impoverished. When K’Naan raps about Somalia in “What’s Hardcore?”  that “If I rapped about home and got descriptive/ I make 50 cent look like Limp Bizkit” we can see the brutal wake-up call that absolute poverty is. Objectively children in Jamaica Queens have it better than children in Somalia. But we still empathize with 50 Cent’s feeling of impoverishment when he raps on “Hate it or Love it” that he “Tossed and turned in my sleep that night/ Woke up the next morning, n*ggas had stole my bike/ Different day, same sh*t, ain’t nothing good in the hood/ I’d run away from this b*tch and never come back if I could.” Let no one misconstrue this then- I’m a young man with supportive parents living in one of the most free and prosperous societies the world has ever seen, life is good.  In the following then I am describing the impact of circumstances upon my feelings and emotions, in order to explicate why psychology has become so important in my spiritual life.

      Impoverished. Cheated. Lonely. Angry. Confused. Resentful. All of these ugly emotions coursed through my veins. Take stock of all this: First, a relapse of my O.C.D. at the beginning of 2017, with horrific religious obsessions; second a month of radical disorientation when I returned home to Toronto in May in which I was not sure if I was going to move to Ottawa or not, resulting in minor depersonalization; thirdly a period of intense stress from lack of employment, community, and structure. Fourthly returning to the home and room where I first experienced the traumatic onset of my O.C.D., in which I would have to face the disappointment of having my ministry dreams crushed.  Finally, all of those collapsing into a state of moderate depression that came with the desires to punish myself. When stretched in all of these ways, you begin to lose your senses of self, time, purpose, and rootedness- all of which contributes to your anxiety, that you are already prone to! Even in writing this, I am struggling to really believe that this happened to me- there’s a beautiful self I believe to be me, but then there’s the f*cked up mentally unwell person that I can also become. The transparency of this brief account will be uncomfortable for many, but it is in the ability to even trace and bring out the redemptive substance of such trials and tribulations that the words of the Apostle James hold true, to “…let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:4-5)

     Psychologically, let’s begin with expectations that I held myself to. The summer began with the full expectation that as a perfectly self-sufficient person I would have been able to enter into a full time ministry position in Ottawa after four months of an O.C.D. relapse. Only in hindsight, can I see the stupidity in this. If someone in this situation were to have come to me, I would have advised that they take a vacation, not a ramp up of work. But I don’t hold myself to the standards I hold everyone else to. “Perfect people don’t take time to rest from important work! I just want to be perfect! Is that too much to ask?”- “Yes you crazy asshole!” was the dialogue in my head. 300px-Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Flagellants_(CCXVr) The roots of my perfectionism still elude me, but Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:48 of “Be Perfect Therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect”, combined my anxiety disorder came up as a decent hypothesis. The voice of self-criticism, the accusatory voice, for the perfectionist takes the place of the voice of God in one’s life. Improving in moral virtue is acknowledged by everyone to be a ‘good.’ To be told then that to pursue the good of moral perfection is harmful, is met with the reply of ‘So what? We all agree that we should be better people and I will make myself into one even if it kills me!” Therein lies the rub, one’s pursuit of moral perfection has now sanctified not merely perseverance and endurance but the deliberate infliction of harm and suffering upon one’s self. Moral perfectionism towards oneself is two steps away from monastic self-flagellation.

     Experience of this tyrannical self-critical voice has forced me to learn the importance of self-empathy and self-love.* Protestant Christianity generally encourages self-reflection and scrutinizing one’s own character for moral improvement. But for an anxious perfectionist, such a focus is psychological torture, leading even to traditional ‘catholic guilt’ over masturbation and feeling the need to confess such a sin to others. Self-empathy is releasing me from my temptation to overburden and hurt myself with unreasonable expectations. If I use a standard of reasonable expectation after a mental health crisis, I was doing remarkably well with my summer in Toronto. I was applying for jobs, going for my driver’s license, trying to go out with friends, went on dates, travelled back to Montreal, applied for housing, and sought help in counselling. The expectations that I had set for my present due to my perfectionism made me feel like absolute sh*t, even when things were only moderately sh*t. It was an uncontrolled need to punish myself for failing my own moral standards that eventually led me even to consider the thought of punishing myself like a monastic–which by God’s grace I did not act upon. If I did not hold myself to be perfect according to my own standards however, knowing that God only wants us to pursue being perfectly loving as God is loving, I would have been able to love myself despite my flaws as God does. In so loving, I would have actually gotten closer to the perfection that Christ was pointing toward.

     But then there was also the external weight of failure over not having meet the expectations of others, whether I was actually under them or not, returning from Montreal to Toronto still without a job or conceivable future. Hopefully those in our lives want the best for us, wanting everything they conceive of as the ‘good life’ for us. But when our good lives do not fit within the framework of how others have conceived of the ‘good life’, we can start to believe that our lives really aren’t good. A common narrative for twenty-somethings is that they should have a full time career, a place of their own, on the way to car ownership, married or on the way to being, or thinking about kids etc…It can be crushing to know that you don’t meet those implicit expectations, especially when many of your peers have. Furthermore, because of our culture’s illusion of meritocracy, we feel as if we’re the ones who are failing us when we don’t come into the ‘good life.’** We begin to disappoint ourselves, becoming quite depressed about our ‘lot in life.’ The resentment that we can carry, over this disappointment can led one to hate life and to lose the will to live. If all you can focus on is that life that you do not have, you will begin to believe that life itself should not be. Gratitude won’t be an antidote, it won’t be a reasonable moral prescription, until we can let go of the expectations that others either consciously or unconsciously place on us.

     Friends of mine have good paying jobs in a variety of areas, but academia and ministry, two areas in our age of a hyper-financialized economy that are increasingly devalued, is how I choose to spend my life, even switching part way through!! One humiliating experience I had during the summer of 2017 was when I went to an alumni gathering of the University of Edinburgh. Others were advertising their career success to prospective students- “Get a degree here, you’ll become well employed!” Meanwhile, I was wandering around as a foil to that message. “What are you doing now?”- “Going for my second masters because my first one got me diddly squat.” 8RnwLk2N-3456-2304
But what I want to say firstly is that the meritocracy is a lie. Life is filled with undeserved chaos but even more unearned grace. Until we can accept this, our ability to truly mourn the chaos as undeserved, instead of seeking to rectify it, and to truly appreciate the grace as unearned, instead of seeking to justify it, will be dulled. Second your life can be good, even if it does not look like the ‘good life’ that others wanted for you. No wife, career, or a place of my own (yet…), but I enjoy a variety of passions and creative endeavours, have a wide supportive community of friends, and a life that has made a beneficial difference in the lives of others. No one held these out as standards to meet, but truly, not everyone has them, and they are good. Gratitude now I embrace as an antidote to the resentment I carry that leads to depression, not out of some guilt that I ‘should’ be more grateful for what I have, but to see how, whatever the expectations others hold us, our lives can and should be worth celebrating.

    Dreams, the third element of our unpacking, are those wonders we ourselves run toward, not begrudgingly merely ‘held to’ like expectations. We all have our own little personal individualized eschatology. We all have a vision of what we want our future to look like. Unlike the expectations we hold ourselves to, these are not things that if we fail to meet we must punish ourselves, they are the things that if we fail to meet then we believe we can’t be happy. While not having the power of The Secret that ‘if you can dream it, it will happen’ (yes, tell that to the Yemeni children wanting Saudi Arabia to stop bombing them) but they nevertheless unconsciously shape our present mindsets in the decisions that we make. For instance, my vision for my future since high school has been to be an authority figure in life-example and teaching for individual Christians and for the Body of Christ. Previously I unconsciously pursued having this kind of authority through academic accomplishment convinced that if I knew a lot about the Bible I could be that authoritative voice for the Church. Transitioning from academia to ministry however was also unconsciously informed by my vision because I now believe that the kind of authority I want to have will be based on love and service to people, not merely knowledge. But what happens when we cannot realize these eschatologies in the present is that the stress of trying to accomplish them ourselves can literally eat away at our muscle mass if we’re not careful.

    Since coming back from Scotland, I have not stopped for a vacation in what’s been almost four years, I didn’t even give myself the time to mourn the loss of some idyllic ministry prospects coming to an end. Last academic year, I studied full-time for my MDiv, worked part-time at Starbucks, had a tumultuous romantic relationship, and came into a new spiritual tradition. But in the summer of 2017 the stress of being unemployed was one of my greatest preparations for ministry ever because I now understand the stress of the working class who I hope to serve like never before. To work your ass-off, to try to come into a meaningful vocation, but being unable to do, is soul crushing. But if we hold our visions tightly, we can make ourselves inflexible for satisfaction now. An interesting analogy is to be made between muscles and imaginations, for if you work them so hard in one direction, you make them inflexible thus causing more than necessary stress. But if you take the time to stretch them every so often, our personal eschatologies can become flexible enough to accommodate happiness in the present. While I am still pursuing ministry to the utmost, I have had to learn that I must always be able to imagine my life differently–even if that’s becoming a manager at a Starbucks or a YouTube academic!–if I am to keep the stress of pursuing my future at bay. We do not have to give up on participating in what could the divine vision for our lives, it is more that we might have to give up the presumption that we know what that is.

    Eschatologies are often mirror images of idealized pasts, so too with our personal histories. It is here where memories have just as much power as our imagination, for our memory is not our access to the past, it is our imagining of our past. Only half-jokingly I refer to my year in Scotland as my Gaelic paradise, but what is amazing is how the memory of such a paradise has influenced my life since. 100117_Next-1024x1024Since returning from Scotland, I have pursued travelling (e.g. New York, Alabama, St.Louis, Montreal, Quebec City), learning about old architecture and art, trying to have a place of my own (e.g. living in a cramped apartment in Montreal, or living on university residence) and even desiring to pursue a PhD study of Dostoevsky. The independence, adventure, sense of moving forward in my career, the beauty, the history, and everything else has been something I have unconsciously pursued afterwords in Toronto, being informed by that memory of paradise. Do I remember the portions of getting rejected by women in Scotland? No. Do I remember the ridiculous amounts of scotch I consumed? No. Yet, it has become a mythic idealization, which I use to contrast with my less than ideal present. Everything good was in Scotland, Toronto was total sh*t. The problem with past idealizations is not that they are good thoughts, its that they are selective memories.

    In the summer of 2017, another paradise I carried was Montreal, where I lived in a community house, surrounded by surrogate siblings–an experience of love that, as an only child, I never had before. However, when I came back home to Toronto I was an only child once again. Preferring my community house experience over my more isolated experience at home, I began to erase the truth that I went through a horrific relapse of O.C.D., while in Montreal! Even more so, I erased the reality that I spent many happy years as an only child at home! Once again, everything good was in Montreal, Toronto was total sh*t. But the good news is that our memories are not fixed direct accesses to the past but are rather our imaginings of the past. We can train our imaginations to reflect on our pasts differently, thus experiencing our past differently. We do not have to look upon our past as paradise, with which our present must only be hells. The depersonalization the literal pulling my conscious self away from experiencing itself as tied to my body, that I experienced was because my present self wanted to live in my past idealizations so much that it could not live in the less ‘ideal’ present. But the great news is that your memory is malleable enough to rid yourself of the lost paradise. Slowly but surely I’ve worked on redeeming my memory, not denying the goodness of Scotland or Montreal, but also trying to remember that there has been so much good in Toronto as well. To be able to have more conscious direction of your memory, allows you to live more fully in your present experience, as your wholly experienced self. As you do so a narrative of your life will begin to emerge. Not one fully comprehensible or linear, but a narrative nonetheless, which does start again at chapter three in order to make sense.

    It is in the enriching of our souls, our psyches, by noticing how we treat ourselves, how we experience others treating us, of how our hopes shape our decisions, and of how our memories contribute to our sense of self–that is by psychology, the study of the soul– that we come upon the greater sense of ‘I AM’.  Perfectionism, desiring to be seen as perfect, is the idolatry of the inner critic. Your moral standards, whether you meet them or not, are not the arbiter of whether you live or die. Resentment over not fulfilling the expectations that others have taught you to have is slavery to another’s vision of goodness. The desires of others, whether you fulfill their prophecies or not, are not worthy to be your guides toward Life. Working stress over not coming into your imagined future is the toil of an Adam believing he can live forever. Your detailed eschatologies of the fulfillment of your desires and hopes, whether they come to fruition as planned or not, are the stone roads carved by urban planners with no knowledge of rivers. Depersonalization, the removal of self from the body of the present, because of an idealized past is the yearning of an Eve for the Eden without the snake that was slithering there. Your recollected memories of what your life was and how your ‘was’ defines your ‘is’ are the diary entries of a Twitterbot!

    Know that the judge of all men is more merciful than the demoniac perfectionist inner critic. Know that the only expectations for the good life that will be met are in the God of your joy and gladness. Know that the Omega of all history rested on the seventh day, knowing that Creation would continue to unfold its own goodness. Know that the one who choose to become a Person without leaving the body, crushed the snake under his foot as he told you he would.

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Theoretically, its something I don’t really understand as it does not seem to grow naturally of a Christian idea of self-sacrifice, there’s a tension there I can’t resolve. I also prefer this terminology to the notion of ‘self-forgiveness’ which is often what people use when they mean ‘self-empathy.’ The notion of ‘self-forgiveness’ is problematic as it implies that there can be sins that aren’t by nature relational, that can be resolved simply by your say-so. 

**Its for this reason I believe young people are gravitating toward socialism. We acted as if the meritocracy were true, then we discovered our society was an oligarchy, and not only do we want to solve this unfair arrangement, we have some resentment that we bought into lie that our society was a meritocracy.

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P.S. While writing this, I have come to see that many of these insights have been formulated through a variety of helpful books on this journey, which you might want to consider reading yourself, including (but not limited to by any means):

On Self-Definition: Christopher Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram

On Perfectionism: Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 

On Gratitude and Resentment: Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

On Negotiating with our visions: Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

On Memories: Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul 

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A Personal Note on Sexuality, Pt. 2

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Authorial Note: While the following personal essay does not represent my current thinking about sexuality at the present time, it was nevertheless in my estimation worthy of being published because it does represent a necessary step in the evolution of my thought from my former Evangelical background to my more ‘catholic/orthodox’ turn of late- for the later see the work of my wonderful friend Giacomo Sanfilippo or the work of Sarah Coakley. Integrity I believe also demands that my thought process been seen in full.

“In regard to all sexual matters there is a polarity according as they are described from the point of view of the participants or from that of jealous outsiders. What we do ourselves is ‘gallantry’; what others do is ‘fornication.'”- Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals

      While I continually write and reflect on many things from a big picture and somewhat academic point of view- I have not dared to do so with sexuality precisely because I know I can’t. As Russell points out, we cannot but help reference own practice and experience when we reflect upon sexuality. Furthermore, I’ve been rather privileged because my identity and practice are not really under dispute or controversy- I’m a white heterosexual male who lives extremely chaste and who desires to pursue sexuality non-violently and as unselfishly as possible (key words: as possible, we all have desires) . If anything, my masculinity is the kind that the more ‘progressive’ voices really desire to promote, a sexuality and gender identity that are not defined by violence and hierarchy- feminist and egalitarian entirely. Furthermore, in traditional Christian circles theoretically (we’ll get to practicallylater) I should have the highest seat of honour for I have remained a virgin well into my twenties, regard mainstream pornography as a sinful expression of sexuality not to be consumed, and I have also tried my best to pursue a loving romantic relationship with a Christian woman (with continual failure, remember- call it ‘eunuch by circumstance’).

      With regards to all the questions of LGBT people and the like, I’ve been allowed to be relatively ambivalent- to those who are considered ‘conservative’ I could just agree along with how these issues are discussed biblically and traditionally because I too was convinced of what scripture and tradition has to say about these things and agreed with the ‘conservative’ side of the argument. To those who are considered ‘progressive’, because I have close friendships with LGBT people, love them, and, dare I say, have no trace of homophobia in my conscious conduct, it was presumed that I was ‘progressive’ in my outlook too because I behaved like how ‘progressive’ people often believethemselves to be, reasonably and lovingly. Rarely have I ever been asked what I actually think about these issues because I am perceived as so nuanced, intelligent, and loving that each side believes that I must share their viewpoint because that’s how they believe themselves to be! Lastly, I desire to be in communion and loving relationship with all people, and so if I had the option “to live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18), I was going to take it!

      The ambivalence I had long carried about these matters was challenged firmly and decisively over the past eight months because of my internship with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). Fundraising was an important component of this internship but I had friends who were hesitant in supporting because of how IVCF have dealt with their staff with regards to matters of sexuality. IVCF US recently pursued a policyof involuntary termination of employees who disagreed with their 20-page position paper on Human Sexuality. Furthermore, it seems as if IVCF Canada might pursue something similar. It was quite the time to do an internship with IVCF, when it was arguably going to  have the greatest secular pushback it had received in a long time. My fellow interns and I were taken through gender and sexuality training that focused heavily on the biblical texts of Genesis 1-3,Romans 1, and Matthew 19– and we knew that this was something we would have to consider should we come on to staff. My LGBT friends may to relieved to know that prior to this internship I was not aware that this was a focal point of IVCF’s ministry, and nor am I continuing with the organization,* though I certainly believe that the organization does a lot of amazing, Jesus-centred, loving things for people, which I myself have had the honour of seeing and participating in.

      It was during this time that I had to begin to wrestle with my own personal experience, and reason to inform my views not only on my own sexuality but also now that of others- now that such issues pressured me with regards to my vocation of Christian ministry (isn’t always the case that we don’t begin to really look at something until it affects us?) When we as interns began to study the biblical texts, let me just say as humbly and honestly as I can, I already knew what I was in for. Furthermore I knew all the issues surrounding the texts because I had been doing academic biblical studies for years- so much so that I was bored of the biblical arguments. Its not that they weren’t important- as a Christian, the Bible is one of the key sources of authority and we HAVE TO wrestle with it whether we like it or not. But the Biblical arguments, one way or the other, though necessary, are not sufficient. Fidning all the scriptural arguments to be based either upon decontextualized devotional readings of the biblical texts masquerading as the ‘plain reading of the scripture’ or readings of the biblical texts that would have all the context in the world but seemed to be just quick intellectual arguments that went along with secular progressive mores and had no real strong theological teeth or consideration of tradition—I was led to consulting my experience and reason about these matters.

      What prompted the move then to consider my personal experience and reason in particular, and not just Biblical arguments, as resources to take seriously with regard to these things? The realization that my moralistic anxiety about my own sexuality that I inherited from my Evangelical tradition greatly impacted and harmed me in connection to my OCD. The profound hatred and uncomfortably we are taught to have toward our own bodies is too deep to grasp by those that have not been a part of this tradition but now seeing how much it impacted me, I owed it to myself to see how else it informed what I thought about all of these things. What I found was that my views were based entirely on selfishness and anxiety. In the more Evangelical circles around this issue, the theological notion of life long celibacy as an option for the Christian life has had a resurrection. Now while the Catholics and Orthodox have known this for centuries it was the Protestants who really cast doubt upon this notion and elevated marriage as the highest fulfilment of the Christian life. Protestants are now being forced to repent of this idolatry of marriage but ONLY because they still want to keep LGBT people out of the institution of marriage, while still repenting of the practice of reparative therapyand their dehumanization of LGBT people. The Evangelical Protestant solution has been to resurrect the notion of lifelong celibacy.

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One excellent example of this evangelical retrieval project.

      While it is a theologically true and rich notion that deserved to be resurrected, the reason Protestants are resurrecting it is so that they will have an institutional practice and space for the admittance of LGBT people into their ministry life without allowing same-sex marriage. As if the purpose of life-long celibacy, it would seem to be from this line of reasoning, is solely to quarantine ‘deviant’ forms of sexuality. Life-long celibacy in service of the church is a real and life affirming phenomenon that, like a lot of Evangelical trends, seems to have only been resurrected to maintain their worldview and power as long as possible. In so doing they have made it false.

      I had to admit to myself that one of the only two reasons why I held to the traditional ethic of same-sex marriage at all was because it seemed like the traditionalists were honouring my own personal sexual experience by resurrecting the notion of celibacy, while the more progressive side seemed to equate sexual fulfilment and marriage as centre pieces of ‘human rights’—as if marriage and sexual fulfilment were what made someone human! The false equivocation of marriage and sexual partnership with the essence of humanity logically led to the conclusion that I was less human because I had not had these things. It is furthermore a great offense to reason because thousands of people throughout history and across the planet have practiced life long celibacyand more often than not they may have been some of the most human people we have ever had the privilege of being in the presence of. The stance I held on LGBT people enjoying marriage then had entirely to do with whether my own personal sexual experience was going to be honoured or not- it was entirely selfish. The traditionalists seemed to honour me, while the progressives seemed to dehumanize me- ‘I’m going with who honours me!’ was emotionally why I was attached to the traditionalist view, the arguments from tradition and scripture were secondary to this.

      What began to put seeds of doubt in my mind about the traditionalists’ new found love of lifelong celibacy however was when I began to apply for ministry positions and found that my single celibate state, which theoretically should have been an asset (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, which interestingly IVCF did not think was an important passage to study concerning human sexuality) was in fact a liability. Churches often made marriage an explicit or often implicit requirement for ministry. Why? Evangelical Protestant Churches are still fundamentally heteronormative– meaning that they still expect one-man and one-woman marriages to be the ‘normal’ sexual state for all of humanity and anything outside of this must be sinful or harmful. The current embracement of life-long celibacy by Evangelicals is completely fraudulent, they want it as their cheat-card way to preserve marriage as heteronormative, not because they actually think its beautiful, God honouring, and the highest calling of the New Testament writers. In the New Testament, if you are a life-long celibate devoted to the work of the Lord, which a married life would take you away from, you should be given the highest honour, but in heteronormative churches this is not the case, because they don’t fundamentally believe that the celibate ideal is really possible, and only want to resurrect it in order to quarantine others from diluting their ‘pure’ institution of marriage.

      It was selfish to be ambivalent about same-sex marriage. What I was effectively saying was “Listen LGBT people, I know you ‘love’ your partner and what not, but your desire is improper, and furthermore, you don’t need to be married or in a sexual relationship to be fully human. Look at me, I’m someone whose desire is considered ‘normal’, and I’ve never had a sexual relationship, and have significant doubts about whether I’ll ever get married, and I must believe that in spite of my suffering that I am a full human being with a lot to offer the world and the church. LGBT people, be like me because if I’m forced by circumstance, bad luck, or the legacy of Christian sexual repression to be celibate and bear this suffering- then you can too, suck it up!” I was effectively asking LGBT to not only share my suffering, but to share my suffering because they should not be allowed to be happy in a way that the world never let me be happy. Truthfully, I’m envious of LGBT people who have found someone who love them for who they are and wants to commit to them in fidelity- I felt that I had been denied that and I wanted to punish LGBT people for that by having a traditionalist stance.

      To my LGBT friends and Christians in particular, I’m sorry that I have not been more supportive of you. I let anger about my own sexual state cloud my judgment. I believed that in order to honour my own state, and to honour the life of celibacy that the New Testament celebrates, I had to diminish marriage in general, and marriage in particular between people who are regarded as ‘unclean’. The traditionalists honoured me with their lips, but punished me in their practice. The tremendous amount of anxiety and anger about sexuality that this heritage has left me, is something that I’m currently pursuing therapy for. Progressives have dehumanized the experience of celibate people to be sure. But what I want to be able to say is that in practice I share in the suffering of being rejected by heteronormativity, I’m only sorry it took my own suffering for me to acknowledge yours, my LGBT brothers and sisters.

 *To be honest, my decision to not continue with IVCF had to do with more individual personal reasons than these issues, so don’t consider me some great champion of LGBT rights who turned down a job because of their stance.

Christian Orthodox Obligations Versus Secular Human Rights

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Review: Leonard G. Friesen, Transcendent Love: Dostoevsky and the Search for a Global Ethic, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016, 240pp., $50.00

       In our climate of a possible ‘new cold war’, Immanuel Kant’s vision of an ethical commonwealth based on universally shared human reason appears more utopian than ever. However, Leonard G. Friesen in his new work Transcendent Love surveys the engagement of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, the 19th century’s Russian literary giant, with European human-rights based secularism, arguing that the alternative ethic that P03233Dostoevsky put forward with the “Orthodox Christ” has as much to contribute to our age as it did in his for forging a global ethic. Friesen enters into the field of global ethics that has, as Heather Widdows in Global Ethics: An Introduction points out, only emerged in the past few decades. Global ethics not only concerns itself with global issues such as the ‘war on terror’, global trade, or climate change, but also recognizes that given the interconnectedness of our society due to globalization and the aspirations of global governance, necessity compels us to create a global ethic to address issues that affect us globally. Introductions to moral philosophy such as Torbjörn Tännsjö’s Understanding Ethics and Kimberly Hutchings’ Global Ethics are quite euro-centric in perspective, which Friesen rightly challenges. In this way Friesen’s stands beside works like The Globalization of Ethics edited by William M. Sullivan that likewise sought to include non-European perspectives.

       For Friesen however contemporary global ethics are detrimentally marred by a radical individualism and a secular moral relativism. Friesen proposes that Dostoevsky’s context of 19th century Russia, being caught between the world powers Europe and Asia, offers a unique contribution for us by helping us break out of our common euro-centrism, as well as being a much needed antidote to our individualism and secular relativism by its communal nature and Orthodoxy respectively. While global ethical issues such as climate change are not addressed in depth, Friesen hopes that new framework for a global ethic found in the “Orthodox Christ” of Dostoevsky can give direction for such engagement—much like Patrick Riordan’s Global Ethics and Global Common Goods in seeking to bring the field of global ethics right back to foundational ethical issues of the ‘Good’ for direction. Despite being notoriously difficult to interpret in literary circles Friesen stands confidant with renowned Dostoevsky scholars such as Vladimir Soloviev in interpreting Dostoevsky as primarily an exponent of Russian Orthodoxy. Dostoevsky is read as such a writer who “…was determined to bridge the gap between the People (Russia’s famed narod, the peasantry)…” who carried the spirit of Orthodoxy and “…the empire’s Europeanized elite…” who were possessed by European secular individualism, as exemplified in his novel Demons, with the “Orthodox Christ.”

       Friesen begins by discussing the motifs of orphanhood and suicide prevalent across Dostoevsky’s work, framed in his novella “The Meek One”, to explore what Dostoevsky feared most for Russia. Viewing the ‘progressive’ thought of Russia’s 1840s liberal generation with suspicion, Dostoevsky saw in it a destructive secularism. “Dostoevsky deemed all moderns to be orphans…” left to complete destitution without God. Our ethical gaze was diminished from immortality and the future, unto this world and the present, leaving those who have the most material wealth to wield the most power, seeking to control us orphaned souls. As such, a variety of new ethical preferences such as ends over means, the individual over the community, and indifference over ethical distinctions are brought about. Dostoevsky depicts the Europeanized elite as thoroughly bored and depressed because of this, which results in searching for a life of new diversions ranging from idle chatter to sexual depravity such as pedophilia. Gambling, self-loathing, voyeuristic entertainment, and direct violence, all likewise stem from this indifference to a secular universe. Left to this destitution themselves, the felt need of the powerful to assert their “…rights even precede any particular content to those rights…” The People (narod) being weak are left so alone to scramble for their security that they might even sacrifice their freedom to inequitable conditions. “It seemed that Dostoevsky associated modernity with ethically sanctioned inequality.” If all ended in death “…in a profoundly meaningless world…” then “…it may be that the only truly meaningful act we can undertake is to kill ourselves”, thus suicide for Dostoevsky is the natural resultant of modernity’s orphanhood. Believing that secular Europeans were still searching for a transcendent ethical vision, Dostoevsky held out hope for their conversion. He does not spell out this conversion in propositional form though, but rather expresses it “…relationally, through an absolute embodied truth…” in the characters of his novels.

    From Dostoevsky’s fears we move to understanding his Russian Orthodox ethics, illustrated chiefly by repentance in his novel Crime and Punishment. Repentance, the beginning of this ethical vision, starts with not only a firm acknowledgement of our wrongs but remembrance of the Orthodox Biblical tradition, seen in Dostoevsky’s various references to the scripture, icons, San Damiano Crossand the sign of the cross all as an reinforcement of it. Dostoevsky asks his “…readers…to think of their future as a memory, for they could approach it by looking backward to the cross and the resurrection of Holy Week” thus recapturing their formally transcendent ethical horizon. Immortality and freedom, such as in his famed exploration of it in his novella Notes from Underground, are likewise essential for his ethical vision, for the vision must be freely embraced in full hope, rather than forced upon the People by coercion and without hope. The transcendence of the Orthodox Christ enables the People to have freedom beyond the brutal determinism of a secular universe and hope beyond the present. The Europeanized Russian elite did provide some lesser version of freedom—the freedom of a variety of equally bad choices as to which debauchery and distraction you wanted to pursue, but they offered nothing to replace the now lost transcendental horizon of Russian Orthodoxy.

     The Russian Orthodox ethic consists in an open invitation to all, especially those deemed ‘unrighteous’. However, both the illusions of moral progress, and a sense of superiority to the peasantry—need to be shown for the sham they are for repentance to begin. Dostoevsky’s common motif of kissing the earth illustrates that “…for Dostoevsky shame was an essential device by which Europeanized, individualized Russians would return to a new identity grounded in the interdependence of the People”, The notion of “joint responsibility” (krugovaia poruka) is prevalent throughout Russian history as shown in Geoffrey Hosking’s Russia and the Russians. Only after this could they move to embrace a life of unconditional, limitless, and personally active love, which flow out of their own sense of their responsibility to others “…even at the expense of their personal joy.” Dostoevsky’s saintly characters manifest this love in pity, the embrace of other people’s suffering, and in bearing collective responsibility. It follows from the last that if we commit a wrong against one person we commit a wrong against all people, resulting in the need for mutual forgiveness, as Christ has forgiven us. For all Russian Orthodox thought this vision, while utterly self-sacrificial, is sublimely beautiful as it develops us into the likeness of Christ like a living icon. Friesen argues then that Dostoevsky would challenge our secular moral relativism with a transcendent vision of the “Orthodox Christ”, as well as our radical individualism by this call to collective responsibility out of repentance.

      In his final section, Friesen looks at Dostoevsky’s speech given at the celebration of the monument to Alexander Pushkin, responding to critics who argued that the Orthodox Christ could not be universalized. Dostoevsky admires that whether Catholic France or Protestant Germany each had its own contribution to global ethical discourse in seeking to be a universal ethic. Europe however made a fatal flaw by forgetting the ideal of the Orthodox Christ. Any ethical vision “…built on a cocktail of atheism, science and liberalism [was] doomed to fail…” and was itself too provincial. For Dostoevsky the ideal of the Orthodox Christ was kept among the peasantry and not in the Europeanized elite, for Russia harbored within itself from its beginning as a nation the Orthodox faith which was always meant to be universal—therefore “…one could be fully Russian and fully universal at the same time.” Dostoevsky further warned that Europeanized Russians who had rejected the Orthodox Christ would seek to impose their ethic by a strong state apparatus that would do anything to reform or be rid of the ‘ignorant masses’—eerily prescient of the Soviet Union less than half a century later.

     Gradovsky is emblematic of the liberal detraction to Dostoevsky’s ethnic conservatism, arguing that a conversion on the part of the elites toward the People was insufficient. What was needed to dismantle an oppressive structure was a progressive movement to work within state structures on behalf of the People. Furthermore, how can it be said that the Russian people held a universal ethic, when they like any other people group were just as provincial as anyone else? Dostoevsky argued that while European liberals may talk of equality, in practice their structures depended on the same servile labor to maintain their lavish lifestyles as they decried in their political rulers—the 19th century Russian equivalent of the ‘limousine liberal’. As for the provincialism of the People, Dostoevsky argued that their exaltation as the bearers of the Orthodox Christ is hardly prideful as it is the exaltation of the ethic of humility itself! What could not have been appreciated however would be later postmodern detraction to Dostoevsky, and by extension Friesen as well, that universalism in and of itself is oppressive because its homogenous impulsive is coercive against any particular difference that it cannot subsume in itself. In the end however, Dostoevsky does not try to propositionally argue with Gradovsky, or much less postmodernism, but instead portrays these two opposing ethical visions in his last novel The Brothers Karamazov—Orthodox Christian communal obligations in Aloysha, the saintly protagonist and secular individual human rights in The Grand Inquisitor—and leaves his audience with the decision between them.

       “We are living out of Dostoevsky’s greatest fears…” as our age is the orphan child with nothing left but violence, and sanctioned inequality. For Friesen the task of forging a new global ethic is necessary given that, arguing in line with Immanuel Wallerstein, the European universalism embraced by Russia’s 19th century elite is of the same legacy that we in the 21st century are now struggling with and in many ways beginning to abandon due to the critiques of postmodernism and post-colonialism. Furthermore, many of the ethical views that Dostoevsky puts forward such as collective responsibility, find much resonance in other traditions such as First Nations peoples and Islam, which have likewise been left out of Euro-centric moral philosophy. Given the centrality of the continuity between modernity in the 19th century and our era for Friesen’s argument however, post-modernism should have been given a vital place of discussion instead of leaving the questions as to how Dostoevsky could address postmodernism and as to how postmodernism is related to the legacy of modernity, mute. For instance, what about animals, do they have rights? How would an ethic of collective responsibility speak to whether we have obligations to animals or not? Illustrating the difference between an ethic based on Dostoevsky’s Orthodox Christ and contemporary secular human rights would more clearly have demonstrated Friesen’s argument for the value of Dostoevsky’s contribution. But perhaps such specifics would have missed Dostoevsky’s ethic entirely, which was that our active love is to be shown to all creatures concretely and not in the abstract. The true test of Dostoevsky’s ethic would seem to be whether, should it be lived out, we would find it insufficient and weak or as beautiful and joyous as he believed it to be.

 

 

 

A Personal Note about my Spiritual and Personal Growth from my First Year of Ministry (Warning: LONG READ)

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      Since leaving Scotland after finishing my Masters of Theology, I had always wondered if I made the right vocational move, switching from the dead, sterile, impersonal, competitive, and isolating field of academia- which nevertheless I was relatively successful in- to the alive, potent, personal, cooperative, and immersive field of ministry- which by my own measures and seemingly the measures of others, I’m not the best suited. In academia, I knew what questions to ask, I knew how to research, compile, making a compelling argument, be direct, and frankly kick some serious behind of others who did not put as much work into their thought as I had mine. when-the-churchgreeters-memesfonjesus-try-being-normal-3859167.pngIn ministry, I have answers to questions no one is asking, am not even sure what are the things I should be looking at, learn how to ‘discern’ (whatever the heck that means), draw people into the ‘presence of God’ (again, whatever the heck that means), be an indirect and gentle guide, and frankly get my ass kicked over and over again by all the messages of what I’m doing wrong, what I don’t have, and what I need to work on to improve it- which for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a personal nightmare and sometimes even a harmful situation. So, why the hell would I make this switch? At the end of the day, I know Jesus personally in my own life, and I struggled to figure out how to follow Jesus any further in academia when I saw him in the streets, in the hospitals, and in the pews. It is Jesus I’m compelled to follow and emulate, not the western stereotype of the white intellectual straight male whose logic and rationality are impervious to the harms of emotions and humanity.

      But I want to begin this piece about lessons I’ve learned during the course of this year of ministry, with a confession- I have grown up in Evangelical Protestant Churches all of my life, and I still feel like either they or I am missing something because I often feel estranged from this tradition that I was raised in, not only because of their politics but their entire approach to things of late. My estrangement became only all the more clear during this first year of ministry with an Evangelical organization- InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). While I intend to write some things about this estrangement soon, I wanted to highlight all the important places of growth because of the Evangelicalism of IVCF, not in spite of it- to make everyone aware that my estrangement is not a dismissal of its importance or goodness. The following are some brief antidotes and lessons I’ve learn about ministry during this year with IVCF:

“Purposeful Patience”

      At the beginning of our internship, the importance of waiting and patience was continually stressed, drawing upon Jesus’s instruction to the Apostles to “…not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…” (Acts 1:4). Now, as someone who waited for two years to do ministry- I HATED this emphasis. I was way more with the angels who asked the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11)- exactly, why the hell were we standing around worshipping Jesus when their was work to do?! I hate apathy, waiting for no reason, and relaxation at the expense of purpose. Frankly, I still feel this way sometimes when I see the urgency of the moment when it comes to our political climate, but it was not the end of the internship when I heard two words that made all the difference- “Purposeful patience.” See, when I normally think of patience and waiting, I think of anticipation for something, and if the Kingdom of God is at hand, then why are we anticipating? Its here! But what I often fail to see is that patience and waiting can be done with the intention of preparation. I wanted to jump into this ministry so fast, without all the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ because I only saw the anticipation, not the preparation. It is also undeniably true that my second semester of ministry was WAY more fruitful than the first, because I knew what was happening and I was prepared by the waiting, in a way that I wasn’t with the first semester. If its a simple thesis it is: We can wait not only in anticipation of what is coming but with the purposeful intent of preparation for what is coming. It is this purposeful intent of preparation in waiting that prevents the waiting from becoming anxious or apathetic.

“Sit Down…Be Humble…”

      Before this internship, to put it lightly, I overestimated by ministry/emotional/people skills. I knew that ministry was not like academia, in that it was people work and not book work. I knew that my skills in research, administration, teaching etc…, which are also important in ministry, were far above my skills in counselling, facilitating, social dynamics and emotional intelligence. But until this internship I really did not know just how far above they were. Before this internship I sought a position at a church, being convinced that because I had done a lot of the hard academic stuff, any and all people skills I needed could be picked up through experience- not another degree (MDiv- cough, cough). God tremendously humbled me through my interactions with students and others by showing me I did not have the people skills needed for ministry- or at least not effective ministry. For instance, indirect leadership- not my preference but often needed. CB-01When it comes to leadership styles, lets make a comparison to dancing. Leadership to me is either the person that choreographs the entire room in a dance, or is the lead dance partner- very direct, very organized, lots of control, and can do a lot if the person is willing. But often what ministry requires is a more indirect style of leadership or a DJ of the dance party, someone who is willing to organize and play a set list, but does not immediately dictate how the crowd will dance, when the crowd will dance, and cannot not just jump in the middle of the dance floor and change things. The DJ sets the tone and wants certain things to happen but has released some control in order to allow the dance partners to have a portion of control themselves and thus create some really magical moments. Many other people skills such as inter-cultural codes, personality tests, mental health, reading emotional faces etc… were all things I came to learn about and be humbled by. If its a simple thesis it is: God can humble us either by jumping on the dance floor directly or us being open to his music, but either way, the humbling is to make us become better dancers. God’s humbling of me, while painful, was what would ultimately make me a better party thrower in ministry life, I can be choreographer when I need to be, but now I’m beginning to have the skills of a DJ too.

“God uses our EROS for other purposes”

      For most of my adult life the assumption that I held about the erotic element in life was that it was for one purpose- to find sexual partners. To be fair to myself, this is what churches and culture teach about this subject. Now, when I began this internship there was a clause about not being allowed to have a romantic relationship during the course of the internship- yes, you read that right, not just a romantic relationship with a student or co-worker which would make sense because of power-dynamics, but not at all. So many of my friends laughed about this because they’ve known about my struggles in this area, while others (I think reasonably too) thought that IVCF was being a bit controlling with their sexual hang-ups (more on that in a later piece). Nevertheless, I’m a good faithful person to a contract that I agreed to but I also know me- a romantic by nature.  I knew that I would be prone to seeking a romance, so I was on the look out.

Students- nothing- check.

Housemates- nothing- check.

Coworkers- nothing- check.

Church people- nothing- check.

As far as I could tell, I was safe! Boy, was I naive. I had intentionally this year made sure I would have one group of non-Christian friends, in this case I made friends with the Fightback Socialist Group at Concordia. I attended one of their events and at the end of the event a woman gets up and announces another event that sounded interesting. Now, I thought she was cute but I was assuming that at a Socialist meeting they would all be atheists, so I thought it unwise to pursue her. Anyways this woman, myself and another guy getting to talking and they ask me what I’m doing in Montreal, and I tell them about doing Christian ministry. Of course, the socialist guy is surprised that a devout Christian would be at their meeting, but then she’s says “I’m a Christian too.” Now, if you could imagine it for a second, my head shook in astonishment very Scooby-Doo like.giphy I found out that she had previous experience with IVCF, had a masters degree and worked at a museum. Holy crap! Cute, Intelligent, Christian, and even Socialist- I wasn’t sure another one of us even existed! We then did a couple of bar trips and casual dinners with good conversation but it didn’t end up becoming anything romantic (she was seeing someone, of course!). But I am still convinced that God wanted me to pursue her because even though I was hoping for a sexual relationship, God was using my erotic drive to draw me into a deeper understanding of what I am attracted to, and what demographic of people I have placed on my heart to minister to- Christians who are intelligent, politically active, leftist and no longer have a spiritual community. If its a simple thesis it is: Sometimes following our erotic desires can lead us into a closer communion with God and can be used for things other than what we expected.  

“God Gives Good Gifts to his Kids, even if we don’t know what they will be” 

      Of all my passions and talents the one I did not expect to be put to any use during this internship was rapping. Hip-Hop is one of those things that is so close and dear to my heart, but its not ever been something I’ve had as a front foot forward. Its a semi-private professional hobby, that always without fail takes people by surprise, especially when I tear it up! In addition to this, I did not expect that my old childhood love of trading card games would emerge either. Now, I knew this internship was gonna be a difficult time of learning, but it turned out to be a lot of fun as well especially in ways I did not expect! For instance I got to perform Ejection, which I have come to see as prophecy about white backlash with the Trump presidency at a worship night for Dawson, as well as two other performances in the first semester. The next semester was crazy too, I got to perform for Jack.org at Concordia’s student bar about mental health awareness, along with three other performances. Seven performances in 8 months is not a pace I am use to, but God rained it down on me for maybe no other purpose than he knew I would enjoy it. I was also introduced to the trading card game, Magic the Gathering, which is of the kind of entertainment that is hours of pointless fun that I use to judge my peers about before but which I am now subsumed in myself. I often speculated about what good things might come out of the internship but the little opportunities of fun joy in rapping and trading card games were not any that I anticipated. If its a simple thesis it is: God loves to give good gifts to his kids, even just when they’re for our pleasure and fun- God wants to see us play! 

“I’m so extroverted! No wonder I was depressed being single in isolation!”

      As much as I believe that God wanted to teach me a lot about himself, about others, and about ministry, I learned equally as much about myself along the way. Just before the internship I took the famous Myers-Briggs personality test and learned that I am apparently an ENTJ. For those of you not in-the-know, the first of the four letters mean stands for ‘E’xtroverted and when it first told me I was an extrovert I was very skeptical. I’m an only child, I’ve always had my own room, and living in a big city like Toronto you often feel isolated from all your closest friends. But what also had me convinced I was introvert was that I was shy and quite as child, and as I became an adolescent I found that I enjoyed reading and writing- two very solitary activities. I thought I was going to hate living in a crowded 6 person household, whom I knew were not going to live up to my standards of cleanliness. But, surprise I actually LOVED IT! All the joy in sharing a table around a meal, spending time in deep conversation, playing board games, praying for each other, laughing, and never feeling like you were alone even when you got space to yourself. The support network was immediate and constant, and it only invited more to join in. So good was this community for me, that I even ended up coming off my anti-depressant medication because I didn’t need it, I wasn’t walking around depressed. What this taught me about my desire for intimacy and a romantic relationship was invaluable. I learned that the loneliness I felt in Toronto fed deeply into my want for a romantic relationship, but when I was surrounded with a close-knit immediate community I may still have wanted a romantic relationship but it didn’t have the same force because I received intimacy and closeness in other ways. I didn’t feel like I needed a romantic relationship the way that I feel I ‘need’ it in Toronto. If its a simple thesis it is: The solution to the problem that “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) does not need to be a sexual partner.

“Learn to live with your thorns, they don’t go away when serving Jesus”

      Now, an immediate preface, suffering is not good. Christianity often has a sadistic element present throughout its tradition and what I am going to say should never be construed as “All suffering is permanent and good and embrace it…blah, blah, blah.” But while suffering is never good, it can often be necessary and is not as easy to tackle as utopians and technocrats would like us to believe it is. During the course of my ministry this year because of a number of factors I had a relapse of my OCD, I thank God however that it was not accompanied by depression, that would have really taken me out of commission. Now, there is so much with regards to my OCD t that I have had the wisdom not to talk or write about and I do ask that you respect my privacy with regards to it. 92087ce9bff56566ae1d8850e7feccddHowever despite some of my wishes for privacy, I don’t try to pretend that its not a major part of my life, and for years now I thought it was all over with- until it reemerged. But in many ways, while it was not good for me to suffer this way, it may have been necessary if only for the things I have received from this recovery that I did not received during my previous experience over five years ago. Five years ago I never received therapy, the medications after a year seemed to do the trick, and I always had the sneaky suspicion that I would need proper therapy one day- I had just not anticipated it being when I was away doing ministry in Montreal! In addition to receiving the therapy that I needed and more awareness of how to deal with OCD aside from ‘take your pills’, I also received an assurance that wherever I was and however I was, God was going to rescue me because I still had a place in his Kingdom and ministry despite my state and capabilities. To have this kind of reassurance is immeasurable when suffering greatly. If its a simple thesis it is: Serving Jesus will still involve suffering, even undeserved suffering, but how one deals with one’s thorns is not simply trying to relieve the pain- though you should- but to have faith in your imminent rescue. 

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      Now, congratulations are in order if you made it this far! But I am so happy that you did, and I hope your own faith in the goodness of God is reaffirmed by my testimony during this year of ministry!

Blessings, and until next time,

Caleb David Upton

Journey Through Montreal with IVCF, Pt. 4- Markeast, The City, and What’s Next (?)

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Dear Friends, Family, and all of my Supporters!

      Jesus has done so much through our students, our churches, our city and in my own personal life that I truly know what the author of the Gospel of John meant when describing his own journey with Jesus that he’s done so many things that “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) but I suppose that I must try. Let us begin with what I was asking all of you to pray for last time I wrote, Markeast!!! Markeast is one of the camps InterVarsity Christian Fellowship runs every year for undergraduate students to spend a week together in an intensive 40 hours of Bible study, whether that’s the first half of the Gospel of Mark, it’s second half, or the beginning of Genesis and we had over a hundred students decide to take a week of their summer after their exams to do such intensive study! It was held at a wonderful Bible camp called Greenhill Camp in New Brunswick, and though the water still had sheets of ice breaking up from the winter, we had three students commit their lives to Jesus publicly in baptism- it was quite the testimony to the non-believers to see Christians willing to go into such freezing water for this!!! Lastly, I had the joy, due to unforeseen circumstances, to teach on the story of the feeding of the 5000– which was great because I got to teach about God’s provision, and shepherding of us, which is what Jesus has been doing in my own life throughout this year, especially through your generous donation to our ministry!

      Our ministry has been entirely through the city of Montreal, though we did have a little fun excursion to Quebec City in order to really soak in the history and culture of Quebec and its complicated relationship to the church. But there have been some wonderful highlights of this city and I’ve been delighted to participate in and share with all of you! First is, St.Joseph’s Oratory, whose original iteration was built by then Brother Andre and Brother Abundius in 1904. Now while the now basilica is so gorgeous who’d think you were in Europe! The story of Brother Andre however is what has been the real gem at the spiritual heart of Montreal. In 1871 an unassuming feeble man became “the doorkeeper, infirmarian, and lamp tender at Collège Notre-Dame. His duties also include running errands, caring for the garden, cutting students’ hair, managing the laundry and working as general factotum.” Over the years he begins to greet the sick who come to him to the school and begins to heal them with oil, much to the complaint of the church hierarchy. He later dreams of building an oratory to St.Joseph, Mary’s husband and the saint of labourers, where he continued to pray and heal thousands of people. When he died at the age of 91, a million people attended his funeral! Finally in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI declares Brother Andre a saint, though he for most of his life was never allowed into the priesthood! It is such a story as Brother Andre’s that we relive the Acts of the Apostles in our own time!

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      The second and last aspect of the city that I want to share with you all, is its thriving art scene! The opportunities I have had to perform some of my Hip-Hop music here have been plentiful and diverse, from performing at worship nights to student bars to shows raising awareness about mental health. It has been a wonderful way to invite students into conversation surrounding faith and art, and to upset all their expectations about what Hip-Hop is suppose to be about! Furthermore, one of my last days here, I finally got the opportunity to take some of my students on a wonderful graffiti tour of St.Laurent! We had the chance to walk around for hours taking photos of all the commissioned (and uncommissioned 😉 ) art that Montreal has to offer! It was a way for us to see the cultural of Montreal and its spiritual expression in our contemporary setting as opposed to its colonial history.

      Now to address the hard stuff, the futures of my housemates and I. As all of you know, and I’m terrible sorry I have not kept you all updated as closely as I would have liked to, we all began this internship knowing that it would be for a limited time and that time is now at a close. What will we all be doing next? Well, I am happy to report that Austin Fedchuk and Sebastian will both be continuing with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as staff this upcoming year, at Calgary and Montreal respectively, and if you would like to contact them about their ministry and help them continue with their work, please email me for more info (calebdupton@gmail.com) or you can feel free to email either of them- AFedchuk@ivcf.ca for Austin or SLee@ivcf.ca for Sebastian! As for Julianna, Megan and myself, none of us will be continuing with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for the next stage of ministry and lives. Megan and Julianna’s stories are their own to tell but for myself it came about through much prayer, discernment and discussion with mentors and friends. While their has been much of this ministry that I have loved, such as the love of students, mentoring and witnessing transformation, and campus outreach there have been other aspects that I have been missing a great deal that this role does not lend itself to very easily such as preaching and teaching. Furthermore, not only have I been missing preaching and teaching but I believe that they are my most abundantly given gifts from God, and I need to nurture them and grow them in a church setting, while still being humbled by my lack of skill in counselling and facilating. It is precisely because I have been humbled in these areas and because God has made a way economically that I will be pursuing my Masters of Divinity studies at Wycliffe college this upcoming fall!  God has shown me this year how much I love the church, how gifted I really am in some areas (preaching, teaching, writing, administration, leadership, vision, and creativity) and how gifted I’m really not in other areas (counselling, emotional awareness, facilitation, and networking) that I will be pursuing my MDiv but also pursuing further ministry work in a church setting for elsewhere.

      To all my Torontonians I will be returning on Tuesday May 23rd, but from now till then and further on you can be praying for (1) our fellowship in Montreal and for my students and their continued growth in outreach to their campus, (2) for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) Canada as an organization as they are currently embroiled in controversy concerning their policies due to sexuality, belief and employment for which they will need to discern and navigate continually*, (3) for those in ministry whether IVCF or not that we will continue to pursue education and skill in mental health areas as it is clear that it is becoming an increasingly difficultly and suffering of university aged people in particular, and (4) for myself as I am currently in the middle of discerning employment and pursuit of ministry whether in Toronto or elsewhere, and that as I am continually anxious about my future with God and for pursuing my own self-care, that in both I will continue to trust that the Lord is Good, Good to me, even when I may have difficultly at times discerning that goodness or feeling it in the moment.

Thank you fellow saints for your support always, with love and gratitude, until next time

Caleb Upton

*I intend to write more personally about this aspect at a later date.

Journey Through Montreal with IVCF, Pt. 3- ‘The People’, and Our Relationships and Invitation to them

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Dear Friends, Family, and all of my Supporters!

         As the fellowship has grown together one of the particular items that keeps coming up again and again, especially in our study of the Acts of the Apostles, is our relationship to ‘The People.’ ‘The People’ throughout Acts are always distinguished from the elites, and always seem to be in and around the apostles but have not quite joined the community. In a similar way our fellowship at Concordia is constantly in the midst of ‘The People’ whether other students, international students, students of other faiths, and others in and around the university pursuing community and careers. One of the major shifts that has happened within the past semester is that our English Corner for international students in now entirely in the hands of student leadership as they continue to provide that program and are now intentionally trying to build a relationship with the International Student Office at Concordia. With this change in leadership then, another student of ours Hailey and I have begun to pursue a new ministry project by the fellowship for the wellbeing of our campus- volunteer teams at The People’s Potatoe!

         The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen run all five weekdays providing a free lunch for any and all who come at Concordia University. that is partially funded by Concordia student fees. As one Macleans article describes it,

“The People’s Potato has decided to take a different approach to the standard model of the university cafeteria. Really different. The place, which bills itself as a vegan soup kitchen, is run by happy student revolutionaries, and is dedicated to such goals as “worker empowerment,” “creating a non-hierarchical, supportive work place” and “building alternatives to corporate-dominated capitalist methods of doing business.” All that, and hey, they also know how to cook. Really well. Communism might still be around if these people had been in the kitchen.”

As I have written in past updates, Concordia has a largely ‘liberal’ or even ‘radical’ presence on our campus, and I for one- love it, as I believe Jesus may have been the most revolutionary figure history has ever seen. Hailey is one of our executive fellowship student leaders who feels the same. She is passionate about the environment and other social justice issues. It has been a supreme joy of mine to share with her Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, as it was such a key work in my walk with Jesus in learning just how central justice is to the Kingdom of God. Both Hailey and myself have seen an incredible opportunity at Concordia to engage on issues that are so important to our campus, and are found on every page of the Gospels themselves. Part of this volunteer recruiting from our fellowship includes prayer and scripture time so that both Hailey and myself not only bring people into serving our campus with us but realize just how important and vital it is to the disciple’s walk to serve our communities and reach out to ‘The People.’ Already we have built friendship with other volunteers in the kitchen, and have brought out a few of them to our Bible studies and other events!

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         As we reach out to ‘The People’ however we recognize that the vital questions of how we relate to one another- whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or family- are often warped, misunderstood, or downright awful and sinful. In response to this our staff leader for Concordia, Charis, suggested that we led a series on relationships for the students where we would use scripture, culture, and particular the viewpoint of Jonathan Grant’s work Divine Sex, to teach our students how as disciples in our context should navigate these waters. Questions of gender roles, desire, our economy, authority, and so much more have been explored and I in particular have had the joy of illustrating to our students through an episode of the hit sitcom Communitythe particular assumptions that our culture has about relationships that we ourselves do not even recognize, that greatly damage our souls!

         In addition to navigating our culture, we’ve also been learning about navigating through others’ cultures. Thanks to the kindness of one of Charis’ close Italian friends, we as a fellowship hosted a pizza making night during which we played games and all made specialized pizzas together. Part of the reason we hosted this evening was so that we could learn more about other culture’s food and hospitality practices. As a fellowship, one of our key ‘strategic priorities’ has been to create a community of hospitality and of sharing life together- as in Acts, when “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (2:46-47). However what we are learning is that North American culture hardly has a monopoly or even expertise on how to welcome people. One of our other executive team student leaders, Kenika Martinez-Deane, shared at this event her experience of her mother’s hospitality to a Japanese student and just how important that experience was for this student. Ten years later this same student offers a place to Kenika on her trip to Japan- this is sharing all things in common! We then got into a discussion about how each person that comes to the table can be an unexpected gift, such as the angels we may be hospitable to unawares (Heb. 13:2).

         Lastly, this semester we have also had to learn how to relate to ‘The People’ during times of trouble and confusion. As I’m sure many of you saw on the news, Concordia University’s Muslim student population during Islamic Awareness Week was recently the target of a bomb threat by the Canadian chapter of a white nationalist group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada. The environment created was one of fear and trepidation, and while we are thankful that no one in particular came to physical harm, we have now an acute awareness that the cultural and racial tensions more obviously present among our neighbours to the south, are just as prevalent amongst us, just under the surface. Many in our fellowship have Muslim friends, and we in particular have had a great relationship with many new international graduate Islamic students who are only more than happy to spend time with us, learn about Christianity, and have a good time. As we reflected upon this threat we used the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis, and one line in particular stuck out, “O Master, let me not seek as much…to be understood as to understand.” In our current context our Christian students and ourselves are often having to explain the actions and choices of other Christians throughout history or even in the recent election of Donald Trump, and continually we say ‘We just wish people really understood Jesus, and did not look at us through the lives of others who carry our name.’ As we reflected on this we realized that Muslims the world over have the same cry in their hearts about their faith- may we seek to understand them.

         As always, there is so much more that could be written about such as our past Christmas camp, and the future of our household but what you can be praying about for our fellowship is MARKeast (!!!!) MARKeast is a week long intensive 40 hour Bible study through the Gospel of Mark at camp! So it’s a wonderful time for students to get away after exams (hopefully after exams!) and work to spend more bonding time with one another, learning about scripture very interactively and creatively, as well as growing closer to Jesus and learning to follow him all the more. We at Concordia want to bring as many non-Christians to this camp as possible, and we could absolutely use your prayers in this endeavour! What a better source for a seeker than the Gospel itself? What a better Christian community than your peers away from life’s pressures? As we continue to outreach in a variety of ways to ‘The People’ at our campus we pray that the Lord will continually add to our number (Acts 2:47).

Thank you fellow saints for your support, with love and gratitude,

Caleb Upton

 

 

Journey Through Montreal with IVCF, Pt. 2- Growth, Disciples, Alienation, and Future

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Dear Friends, Family, and all of my Supporters!

         If you are in ministry you already know the truth of this next statement, full-time ministry is all consuming, devastatingly hard, but possibly the most life giving vocation I could have ever given my life to. Ministry is all time-consuming not merely because its full time work, but because you carry much responsibility for those in your care, and, as Paul says, ‘have them in your heart’ (Philippians 1:7). Learning some of the ministry skills for for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s ministry has been the most humbling aspect of ministry thus far–as I thankfully anticipated. But those, fully honoured in their impact upon my heart and soul, are next to nothing when measured beside all the ways ministry has contributed to my own spiritual growth and discipleship. From Dec. 25th to Jan. 9th I will be home to share much more in-depth personally as an individual but for now I want to embrace the lesson of Doctor Strange which I watched with one of my housemates recently, that really, this is not all about me.

         Allow me to introduce you to two of our students- Miriam Carjan and Mae Anne Devera, a dynamic female duo that make me question how much I have to contribute to their discipleship really but am glad for the opportunity anyway. Having known that Mae Anne suffered from an anxiety disorder, I wanted to offer a spiritual perspective on such things given my own experience with O.C.D.. Miriam in her spiritual journey had already been compelled to care for Mae Anne! All three of us then are mutually discipling each other together with the theme of faith, and specifically faith as taking risks toward God. During our Fellowship’s Bible studies in Acts we have been learning a lot about prophecies and dreaming, and that the Holy Spirit is still giving these gifts now in the midst of our students is clear. Mae Anne had created a thought map of spiritual discernment that had lead her to the same clear centre that I had been already led to lead them, which was faith both as asking God to take responsibility for anxieties, but also in taking risks toward him. As we’ve been exploring this idea Mae Anne has been growing in her clear gifts of teaching others such as in our weekly English conversational group English Corner, but also in wisdom as to how to understand Biblical truth and apply it to her life. Likewise Miriam is at a place where she is so effectively leading our English Corner team that when I forget things I am so glad she is there to remind me. Lastly with regards to both of them, they are learning so much about the Bible and both of them are shining examples to the rest of our students as to how to witness to their friends and invite them into learning about Jesus! Mae Anne has invited and successfully brought more people to English Corner than the rest of our team combined, and now has invited a friend of hers to learn about Jesus through the Gospel of Luke. Miriam has surpassed all of us in inviting people from English Corner into learning about Jesus. Miriam genuinely was concerned about how to witness to others, but now that she has been given the confidence she has taken off immensely.

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         One other student I want to introduce you to is Josh Brown. Josh is an unexpected gift and challenge from God to our ministry. Josh is half-Canadian, half-American, and was part of the Marine core for many years having been compelled by the attacks of 9/11 to enlist. Having now finished up, he has come to Concordia University to pursue a business education. Josh, much to the surprise of some of our fellowship is an active, dedicated and servant hearted disciple of Jesus. He and I have had many conversations about life, the Bible, and politics. It is his strong political opinions in particular that has put him at odds to the rest of our fellowship. The rest of our fellowship are polite cultural Canadians- Josh is a Donald Trump supporter who believes that God is giving, by Trump, America its last chance to repent. How to both honour all the wonderful passion that he has for us, and his long and genuine desire to serve God and find community, while at the same time learning to navigate and manage such stark differences has been a ministry lesson that will last long beyond this year. In serving students, I did not expect to be serving a soldier. Josh reminds me greatly of the centurion who had greater faith than anyone in Israel (Matthew 8:5-13), though no one would have expected someone like him to have such faith. Nevertheless, we pray that he will grow in spiritual maturity, particular as we study together what the Bible calls us to with regard to politics, and as we learn in practice the important application Paul gave in Romans 14 to “not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister,” including strong political views.

         In the midst of these testimonies however, there are stories about students who choose to run away from God. In one relationship, a student of ours from English Corner was seeking to learn about Christianity in general but as we were studying together his personal confrontation of his own pride from what he was learning in the story of the younger brother in the story of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) was far too overwhelming. He ran away from learning more about Jesus, his life and teachings, ultimately because addressing our own pride is never easy. In another relationship, a young non-Christian man and his nominal Christian girlfriend had been hurt by other ministries and therefore choose to end our friendship together for fear of further hurt and the disintegration of their relationship. The circumstances around these stories does not permit me to divulge much material but what I can say is that evangelism more than anything else, fills me with such self-doubt. “Was I too aggressive?” “Would it have turned out any different if I had been more gentle?” “Was what I was hoping for from taking these risks of invitation and asking these questions–that of bringing them into a relationship with Jesus–really outweigh the cost that may be incurred, of not only further alienation from me but their further alienation from the Christian message?” Evangelism is when you find out just how much you are really willing to risk for your faith in terms of your human relationships, whether family or friends. Are you willing to risk all the fun, all the affection, and all the joy that comes from those relationships for the sake of the well-being and the very salvation of those with whom you are in relationship with, by the means finding their innermost longings in a joyful and affectionate relationship with God? Conversion is something that I dearly long for, for all people, a result of my heart for evangelism inherited and nurtured primarily by my earthly father as I’ve learned. Bringing such a heart into ministry was one of the most important things God has done in our ministry thus far.

         Friends, there is so much more I could right about, such as  our Myers-Briggs training, our Gender and Sexuality training with InterVarsity, how my outreach to the Socialist club is going, our ministry partnership with Haiti, our annual fundraising dinner, two Hip-Hop performance opportunities I’ve had, my relationship with St.Peter’s Anglican Church, and my latest opportunity to preach there but I would like to end with how you could be praying for us. First, please pray for the men in our fellowship to take a more active role in discipling one another. Since Sebastian, my co-worker at Concordia, and I have arrived the amount of men in around our fellowship has doubled, which, while creating an immense opportunity for the men in our fellowship to be discipled by their male peers, has been mostly reliant upon Sebastian and I, a situation we want to remedy. However, as much as Sebastian and I try to create these opportunities for growth, nothing will change unless God moves in the hearts of these young men to start looking out for one another. Second, and lastly, please pray that our fellowship will continue to have a good relationship with Concordia University for whether it has been the student union or the MultiFaith Centre we have had good relationships with them and they remind us that our fellowship does not exist solely for ourselves but for the betterment of our campus.

Thank you fellow saints for your support, with love and gratitude,

Caleb Upton

In the next Episode:  St. Joseph’s Oratory, Social Service projects, Christmas, more on the outreach to non-Christians, and more!  

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