Monastery of All Saints

During our travels through southern BC, I was able to drop in to the Monastery of All Saints in Dewdney. The monastery has three residents and is presided over by Most Reverend Lazar Puhalo (Vladika), a retired archbishop (his biography is quite fascinating). I have been watching his YouTube videos for 3 or 4 years now, off and on. He is a polarizing figure in the Orthodox community, but I find the depth and breadth of his knowledge to be a great source of wisdom.

We stopped in one Sunday afternoon just as people were clearing out after a potluck. Since we were driving through the area, I thought I would pop in and shake his hand, thank him for his ministry and leave. I ended up having an almost 2 hour visit with Vladika over coffee and cakes. My wife and kids were welcomed graciously and they visited with Bishop Varlaam, a very kind and attentive man. My family also strolled the gardens and watched ducks on the pond.

My conversation with Bishop Puhalo wound through many topics. I explained where I was in my journey and how I am fascinated with the Orthodox Church and its theology and practice and that I am deeply connected to my protestant church and protestant church school. My greatest regret is that I didn't anticipate having his ear and therefore I did not have any really good questions to ask of him. If I did have the time and forethought, this is what I would have brought to the conversation:
Why is there not a more formal pronouncement from the Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledging the validity of the Protestant concerns regarding things like decentralized power among the clergy, separation of church and state, and church abuses of power?
Notwithstanding the offences in western countries despite western church presence there, why have we seen such devastation in traditionally Eastern Orthodox countries - Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Romania, etc.? In other words, has the church not had the influence in its population that it ought to as far as transforming hearts and culture? Why has the church lost its influence/relevance?
How does a protestant (like me) incorporate orthodox practices into his life without become an orthodox christian? Everything is so foreign (sometimes literally in foreign languages) and inaccessible.

The following week, I was back in the area and I attended a Sunday morning service. I was one of 4 attendees of matins (or "the hours"), the preliminary 1 hour service. Everyone except for the elderly or young mothers stands for the whole service (which, including matins, lasted nearly 3 hours). Bishop Varlaam welcomed me and got me situated with a copy of the liturgy. A married couple sang back and forth through the liturgy which consisted of many Psalms which are organized to retell the whole story of redemption from Creation to Fall to Resurrection to Glory.

The main service continued the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and includes many rites and congregational responses that I mostly did not understand. Archbishop Puhalo spoke for about 15 minutes for the homily. I didn't partake in the eucharist as I am neither a member nor did I fast ahead of time.

What was of incredible impact to me was that the whole liturgy is sung - this is a visceral experience where your entire body begins to resonate with the truths you sing and intone. Not only is the music of salvation ringing throughout the room, but your sight is stimulated by the dozens of ikons on the walls, your nose is filled with incense, your mouth takes in salvation if you are partaking in the eucharist and wine, and your flesh contacts holy objects as you enter the room and kiss ikons and crosses and the Holy Bible. It is a time that affirms the importance of the physical realm while infusing it with spiritual truth. This sensory worship is in stark contrast to the strictly intellectual and emotional services in the protestant world.

Upon my first visit at the monastery, Archbishop Lazar blessed me with several books from the monastery's printing press, Synaxis. The books are very scholarly and grounded in quotes from early church fathers. I am excited to read through these as I have read a few of Lazar's books in the past and they have been very helpful.


Book Review: The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray

Ever since I was able to distinguish what anabaptists were from baptists, I have been intrigued by their story and their theology. My interactions and knowledge of anabaptists and their later affiliates have been:

  • seeing Hutterites at the farmer's market and out and about
  • the movie Witness set in an Amish settlement
  • many friends who grew up as Mennonites, or at least have Mennonite parentage
  • Paraguayan/German Mennonites to whom my wife taught English
  • the incredible, forgiving response of the Amish community after 5 of their daughters were killed
  • Daily Digs, emails which I still receive from the Bruderhof network which are some of the most thoughtful quotes out there
So, with this opportunity to learn more of these easily identifiable Christians, I picked up The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith. In the past half decade, I have been drawn more to traditional or more orthodox theological or historical texts, so this is perhaps a little out of character for me. 

The book begins with a tour of anabaptist influence in Britain and Ireland which is odd because there has never been a visible concentration of anabaptists in the British Isles, but that is where the author lives and where his Anabaptist Network operates from. For me, this was the least interesting part of the book. I wanted to know what anabaptism was all about and where it came from and where it is today. Fortunately, Murray takes us there.

To explain the essence of who these fringe Christians are and what they believe, you can simply look to the words of Jesus. They embrace communal living, non-violence, justice, Jesus as the central voice in theology, personal devotion to Christ, decentralized power in the church structure, and the separation of church and state. 

The movement was born mainly out of Switzerland in the time of Calvin, early 16th century. They were persecuted for most of their existence. The primary cause of opposition was their insistence that Christians make decisions for baptism as adults. This flew in the face of centuries old theology and the authority of the church, be it Catholic or Reformed. Some of the earliest anabaptists (rebaptized) were martyred by drowning in mock baptisms by other Christians. They eventually spread out through central and northern Europe where strongholds were found in Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Territory (Moravia). They were then scattered during the following centuries and ended up in Russia where they again were persecuted and fled to the Americas mainly.

As I read about their unique attributes, I realized that much of what they brought to the table as they spoke out in opposition to the established church were doctrines and practices that I grew up with in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church:
  • Adult baptism
  • Foot washing ceremony (as a part of communion)
  • Strong bent towards separation of church and state
  • Emphasis on service and justice
  • Distrust of other Christians, especially Catholics
  • Independent (either personal or congregational) interpretation of the Bible
As such, in my journey, I have had to re-evaluate these beliefs, embracing some and not others. One of the greatest things that I have come to embrace is the ancient interpretations of scripture above my own. This is one of the areas where Anabaptists and I part ways. While I am drawn to their humble communal way of life, their hearty rejection of anything traditional prior to their movement makes it difficult to accept their paradigm. This is essentially the evaluation Lazar Puhalo and Ron Dart gave the book.

That said, I think their passion, as muted it is, is commendable and inspirational. I think many aspects of it should spread. And that is the estimation of Stuart Murray too.


Book Review: Turning Points by Mark Noll

The other book I've read by Mark Noll profoundly changed the way I perceive Christianity, and for that I am grateful. That book was called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It chronicled the history of evangelicalism in the United States and Canada from its roots of Methodism, Presbyterianism, big tent revivals, denominational splits and ultimately new doctrines and current fervour. I highly recommend it.

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is probably a university textbook read by ministry students at most seminaries at the introductory level. It conducts a survey of 14 key moments in Christianity that helped define what it is today. In order, these are the events he concludes to be key and my very brief synopsis on why they are key.

  1. The Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 CE: Christianity burst out of an essentially Jewish culture and became very decentralized. It became more hellenistic as a result and shed much of the Jewish customs which defined it in early years.
  2. Council of Nicea, 325: The church leaders met to affirm the divinity of Christ and his place within the Trinity in order to thwart heresies. It also was a massive turning point for Christians as their emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and persecution of Christians basically stopped over night and the empire began to be transformed into what we could call Christendom. New political realities.
  3. Council of Chalcedon, 451: Another important council affirming the nature of Christ (both man and God at the same time). This is where the first major split within the church happens and the Coptic Church affirms a different nature of Christ (as a unique substance) and they no longer share communion with the Orthodox Church. Their roots can be found in the Middle East and North Africa today.
  4. The Rule of Benedict, 530: As some church leadership slipped into depravity, or at least they focussed more on their temporal power and wealth, a new group of Christian leaders emerges in monasteries. Their devout witness and discipline offer an essential example of humility, service and devotion to lay people and church leaders alike.
  5. The Coronation of Charlemagne, 800: The church asserts its authority over the political world by becoming the body who crowns the emperor. Christendom reaches fruition as church and state become deeply intertwined.
  6. The Great Schism, 1054: The Eastern Church refuses to accept the primacy of the Roman Bishop (Pope). The Roman Church strikes out on its own and the Eastern Church becomes isolated from the rest of Christendom. 
  7. The Diet of Worms, 1521: One of many sparks which started the fire which caused another huge split in the church. The response of Roman Catholic abuses of power and wealth cause some Christians and princes to reject Roman rule and the Reformation begins with Protestant Churches sprouting up all over northern Europe.
  8. The English Act of Supremacy, 1534: Another rejection of Roman rule comes when Henry VIII of England is not granted a divorce from the Pope. Fortunately, there are some clergymen and brilliant theologians who are more than happy to establish a revised Church of England, even if the head of the church must be the British monarch.
  9. The Founding of the Jesuits, 1540: The 16th Century was a big one in Christianity. This was one of the beginnings of the Counter-Reformation that occurred within the Roman Church. Ignatius of Loyola's new society gets papal approval and coinciding with the new era of imperialism abroad, missionaries are sent and Christianity leaves Europe/Middle East and North Africa for the first time in history.
  10. The Conversion of the Wesleys, 1738: Along with some continental movements, the Wesleyan movement towards personal piety in Britain cause revival not only in personal spirituality, but also social movements that ultimately take down the institutions of child labour, slavery, the disenfranchisement of women, and other social ills.
  11. The French Revolution, 1789: While the Christian church in all European countries enjoyed a high level of influence over (or at least to the same degree as) the kings and queens for a thousand years, the French Revolution was the beginning of the end. The church sees its authority slip away country after country beginning with the first priests marched up to the guillotine.
  12. The Edinburgh Missionary Conference, 1910: The protestant churches recognize its responsibility to bring the Gospel to the far reaches of the world. Bible translations become a priority and women become prominent in their roles as missionaries.
  13. The Second Vatican Council, 1962-65: The Roman Catholic church addresses issues of doctrine and practice after realizing they must change to remain relevant. Interestingly enough, they seriously consider many of the issues brought up 450 years earlier by the reformers.
  14. Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, 1974: Protestant churches recognize the impact and role of Christian leaders around the world. Africa, Asia and South America take prominent positions in speaking on doctrine and practice.
Noll writes from a markedly evangelical position and is consistent in acknowledging his bias. That said, he writes of Roman Catholicism respectfully and magnifies pre-reformation turning points more than the typical protestant might.

I feel far better suited to focusing on any one of these or other minor turning points as I can contextualize the events and even carry their importance to their current expressions. My favourite part of reading this book was sharing with my son Blaise the various events and hearing his response.


Brew Four: HefeCentury Kleffeweizen

This is my first 100% grain brew. I borrowed Alex's brewing gear (a hacked cooler and a turkey fryer) and headed over to Anne's to make magic. She asked me to help her make some beer for her upcoming 50th birthday party and I gladly agreed. She wanted a hefeweizen and named it Hef-Century Kleffeweizen (a little play on words and her last name).

I borrowed the recipe from Alex:

  • 7 lbs wheat malt
  • 5 lbs pilsen malt
  • 2 cups rice hulls
  • 1 oz Hallertau Hops (I used Tettnang Hops instead)
  • Wyeast 3068

Jae and Anne and I completed the mash stage, which is where all the magic happens in extracting all the malt. We had to maintain the temperature at 110F for 20 minutes, then raise the temp to 133F for 25 min, then raise again to 145F for 30 min then finally to 154F for 30 min. Then the sparge. Then the boil - which managed to boil over even with 3 pairs of eyes watching it.

We clearly allowed too much grain into the fermenter - it was like bread dough on the top of it.

In all we got 17.67 L at 5.15% ABV.

So, my fear is that the brew got infected somewhere between the boil and cooling to the point when you pitch the yeast. There is a distinct sour flavour in the one beer I've sampled from the batch. Otherwise, the banana notes in the aroma are killer. I look forward to sipping one this weekend.

Happy Birthday Anne!


Goat Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

Heading northwest from the Red Rocks in Waterton Lakes National Park is one of my friend's favourite hikes. Chris has done this hike six times and will likely do it several more times.  Our family sets out late morning on July 7 with Chris and Christie for a 7 km hike (with an elevation gain of 500 m).

The first 4.5 km follow a very well maintained path (an old fire road) along a creek between Anderson Peak and Mount Glendowan. We cross a part of that creek at one point by stepping on rocks.

For the last 2.5 km to the lake are a series of switchbacks on Mount Glendowan with stunning views of the valley. Wildflowers dot the steep edges and there is occasional shade from the spruce trees.

The final kilometre is mostly scree and I hold Acadia's hand to ensure she doesn't slip down the mountainside. The kids are enamoured with Chris's walking sticks and he is kind enough to stop, readjust, lend them and then repeat several times as they return and borrow them again and again.

The lake refreshes mightily. I am the only one to jump in and everyone on the mountain hears me exhale girlish screeches. Chris had packed up his dingy and we take turns paddling the kids around Goat Lake. Chris fails to catch a single trout after having talked up the feast of fresh fish we would be having. It turns out they are spawning and therefore not interested at all in his lures.

I have to say that the children impressed me greatly! They managed a 14 km hike with a 530 m elevation gain!! It took us all day, but they were in a good mood at the end and we all devoured our gourmet hot dogs in downtown Waterton.

Book Review: Heresy by Michael Coren

I was interested to see what rebuttals to such accusatory statements about Christianity like

  • Christianity is against science
  • Christianity supports slavery
  • Hitler was a Christian
  • Christianity is anti-intellectual
  • Christianity resists progress
  • Jesus never existed
  • Christians are overly concerned about abortions
There are ten chapters each addressing one of these lies. I personally did not take any issue with any of his arguments to the contrary of these lies. Nearly everyone of his arguments were made in the affirmative. For example:
Lie: Christianity supports slavery
Rebuttal: Christians led the fight for abolition, therefore Christianity does not support slavery.
Lie: Christians are anti-science
Rebuttal: Here are a dozen examples where Christians were the leading scientists in their fields. 
While I appreciate the rebuttals, many of which are nice 2 page bios on important Christian activists or intellectuals, Mr. Coren rarely lends any credence to the origins of the lies and therefore never really counters what would be the honest statements by Christianity's detractors. For instance, I would have appreciated an acknowledgement that there were Christians at one point who profited greatly from slavery, but why those Christians were not living out a historical Christian faith. Or acknowledging that there continues to exist an anti-intellectual segment within the Christian population and simply explaining why that is and why it should not colour the entire faith as anti-intellectual.

It was an easy read, but not entirely helpful as an apologetic text or even as a contemporary analysis of how Christians ought to be viewed.

Marathon Training for Marathon III

2.5 months after running the Calgary Marathon, I decide to run the Victoria Marathon over Thanksgiving weekend in October. This gives me a mere 8 weeks to train, but since I was already somewhat conditioned from the spring I figure this won't be an issue. I had 17 weeks to train for my first marathon and 16 weeks for my second one.

I am half way to the marathon now and I have run 174 kms staying on target with my training regime with the exception of 2 runs when I was sick for a weekend. I experienced some rather severe shin pain in the first couple weeks, but the pain hasn't carried further than that and only resurfaces when I play tennis (mysterious). I have supplemented with a bit of ultimate frisbee and cycling to work.

The RunKeeper app has been fantastic in tracking distances and paces and even providing my training program. The connection to friends who are also running has been encouraging and even delivers a level of accountability. Yesterday I discovered the RunKeeper site which allows for far more analysis. I even downloaded all of my runs and imported them into Google Earth to show all the trails I have pounded in Calgary, Radium and Red Deer in the last 4 weeks.

My longest pre-marathon run is coming this weekend (and the heaviest running week too at 79 kms). I still have 167 kms total to run. The best part is that I really enjoy the runs when I have the time. The cool weather is definitely a bonus too!