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philosophy

Next steps – where am I headed?

So I’m sure that some of you are probably asking, “Okay, so you’re working in a career in computers. Why are you going to school for theology and what are you going to do with that?” And I’ve even had a couple of friends ask, “How are you gonna make money doing that?” These are good questions. And, I have some good answers. Here goes…

I love my career in IT. I work with a great team of people and we build websites for a living. I don’t really feel like leaving this career path. It’s been very rewarding and it continues to provide sufficient challenges and opportunities for growth that I would have some serious problems with walking away with it for good.

That being said, I feel quite lucky to be able to live my double life as an IT professional, as well as being a student. And, I really enjoy the fact that I’m expanding my knowledge base on something that contributes to my personal growth.

So what are my priorities for the next five years or so? I’ve got four main “buckets” that I will be devoting my energy over the next five years or so:

  1. MY CURRENT CAREER – For the time being, my first priority remains my current career. This is my livelihood and it’s also a great passion of mine. So, if my boss is reading this post, until I say otherwise, I am committed to my job and am not looking at going anywhere anytime soon. Don’t worry!
  2. MASTER OF DIVINITY – Obviously, my most important next step is to finish school. I am committed to finishing my masters degree. Doing it part time will likely take me another four or five years.
  3. GAIN EXPERIENCE – This four or five year period will coincide great with my practical time spent at my home church. I am the student pastor at my home church. That means shadowing the rest of the pastoral staff, giving sermons, leading worship services and teaching sunday school. All of these activities provide excellent opportunities for me to apply my studies and to become more comfortable in a church leadership setting.
  4. WRITE – Writing has provided me with a great outlet for my creative energies. In fact, I am seriously considering writing as my long term ministry outlet. This would allow me to continue my career in IT while practicing my craft at the same time. I will continue to write my blog. And I am also interested in writing to get published as well. I would like to write some articles for magazines and I have some ambitions to write a couple of books as well.

So yeah… that’s where I’m at right now. These are my priorities. I hope you’ll continue to read my blog, to provide me with words of encouragement from time to time, and I hope that I’ll be seen as a positive encouragement to all of you in your faith.

This is the last of my biographical posts for a little while. It’s been great sharing a bit about myself with you. I thought it was important to explain a bit about myself and to give everyone a grounding of who I am and where I’m coming from in my writing.

What’s next, you ask? Well… I’d like to start developing a couple of book ideas that I’ve had for a while. I’ll be using my blog to stretch my legs a bit and to help develop some sound arguments before I put them into book format. So, you’re gonna get a look at some topics that I am extremely passionate about in the next little while.

Coming up next: My critical reflection on The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Categories
philosophy

Grad School – my experience so far at Divinity School

Macdiv headerLast time I talked about my experiences so far as a student pastor. There has been some overlap between grad school and my student pastor experiences due to the overlapping nature of the content involved. School requires work term placements within a church setting and my classroom learning has been incorporated into my role as a student pastor. It’s been great to apply what I’ve been learning directly into a practical setting. I couldn’t ask for a better way of practicing what I’m learning in real time.

Grad school has also allowed me to discuss some difficult topics in a non-threatening and supportive environment. Well… for the most part, it’s been non-threatening and supportive. I have noticed a bit of a difference between my undergrad and my grad school experiences though. How so? Well…

Many people in undergrad philosophy programs are there to question the established church. There were plenty of challenges to the established religious opinions. I felt outnumbered most of the time and I felt that it was an uphill battle to defend my faith in the face of so much “post modern opposition”. But, everyone was able to respectfully ask the questions and share the opinions that they wanted to ask, regardless of their perspectives (myself included).

Grad school has been a little different. Most of the time, I’ve felt comfortable to ask questions or discuss things in an open and non-judgmental environment. But unfortunately, there have also been times when I’ve detected a little resistance to my questions from other students. It feels to me like there are those that don’t like their denominations questioned or their worldviews to be challenged. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I have sort of felt that disagreement was seen as a slight to some other students. Don’t get me wrong… for the most part, classroom discussions have been great. It’s just been the odd comment that has made me feel this way. Note: I’ve only felt this from other students. The professors have always been open minded, approachable and encouraging of alternate viewpoints, regardless of their own opinions.

The other thing that’s been great about grad school has been the chance to solidify my Christian worldview in a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. My undergrad was neither encouraging or discouraging. It just was. But my grad program has been about building stronger faith and encouraging me to walk with God. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals has been extremely motivating and I am thankful for the opportunity to learn in such a great atmosphere.

I look forward to continuing my grad studies. I’m working on my master’s degree part time, and it’ll take me another 5 years or so to complete it. I’m looking forward to the additional learning that I’ll be receiving in the years to come and the additional growth that will come out of it as well.

Stay tuned… I’ve got one more post left in this series of biographical posts. Next time, I’ll be talking about my next steps and where I’m headed.

Categories
philosophy

My Pastoral Experience Thus Far

I am definitely in my early days as a religious leader, but that doesn’t mean that I should avoid practical experience. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my home church support me in my walk with God and they have embraced me as their student minister.

Note: I am still growing as a religious leader and I definitely have gaps in:
a) my knowledge of how to be a pastor; and
b) my strength and moral conviction as a spiritual leader;

But, that’s part of the journey: living, growing and breathing in God’s presence as we strive to grow closer to him and to represent ourselves and our faith in an appropriate way.

My home church has offered me numerous opportunities to serve and get involved in various roles within the church. There are three valuable growing experiences that stand out in particular as tremendous areas of growth:

  1. Prayer – My self-proclaimed weakness has and continues to be public prayer. This is an area that need to exercise in order to make it strong. I have had the opportunity to develop this through prayer groups, worship leading with the congregation and leading sunday school classes.
  2. Preaching – Until a year ago, I had never delivered a sermon. Period. Since then, I have performed numerous sermons, and each one has been increasingly better. I have a greater sense of confidence at the pulpit, greater confidence in my knowledge of the subject matter and a greater maturity at delivering my messages.
  3. Leading – My largest area of focus at my home church has been as a Sunday School teacher. I have had the priviledge of building a Christian parenting and marriage group. This experience has been extremely rewarding. it has given me the chance to learn a great deal, while working to build a community of like-minded people in a fun setting.

My biggest lesson so far has been the power of relationships. Pastoral ministry is about building relationships and connecting with people. At first, I thought that strong academic content would be the best way to connect with people. I found that academic language quickly took a back seat to relaxed group discussion, anecdotal examples and personal reflection. My experience has shown that group dynamics typically require short, easy to understand and quick to explain snippets of information. Thus, I quickly adjusted my teaching style to present succinct examples that prompted group discussion. I noticed that the content became secondary in many of our group discussions. The content was simply to start conversations. From there, the discussions typically took on a life of their own.

Does this mean that I no longer care about content? Hardly. On the contrary… I focus more on content than I did in the past. Valuable class outlines require tight agendas and meaningful content in a brief, organized and accurate layout. This type of an outline is harder though: it’s harder to convey meaning in a short explanation than in a longer one. And, each week, I try to make my descriptions as short and concise as possible.

I have a long way to go in order to perfect my skill and ability as a pastor, but the experience I have received so far has been extremely helpful. I look forward to continuing my education on an ongoing basis.

That’s it for today. Next time, we’ll discuss, Grad School – my experience so far at Divinity School.

Categories
philosophy

Maintaining My Faith as a Philosophy Undergrad Student

I’m the type of person that has to ask why about things. I can’t just do things in a half-hearted manner. It’s either all or nothing for me. And, if I am going to be serious about my faith, then I need to understand and articulate my faith in a way that makes sense. It’s not enough for me to just say, “because” as an answer to the question, “Why do you believe what you believe?” And, I can’t be a lightweight: I need to be able to defend and articulate my faith in the face of skepticism and disbelief.

So, what better place to increase my understanding and to stretch my faith than philosophy and religious studies at university? With courses like “Modern Atheism”, “The Rationalists”, “Sociology of Religion” and “Issues in the Philosophy of Religion”, I can honestly say that I put myself right in the middle of some serious debate pertaining to the existence of God and the adequacy of faithful living.

After wrestling with the likes of Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Kant, Darwin, Daley, Paley, Dennet, Weber, Schmitt and many others, I think that I’ve put myself sufficiently in the line of fire to challenge my faith. And, after reading the best that classical philosophy can offer. And, I’ve also examined some writing from the more “popular philosophists” of our modern time – Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great” are among these.

The two greatest faith lessons that I learned from my studies at U of T are the following:
1. Faith and reason speak different languages – this doesn’t mean that they are mutually exclusive.
Faith and reason use different methods of understanding the world around us and our existence within it. Where reason requires tangible empirical evidence to support its claims, faith based arguments rely upon belief based on feelings and historical reminders of God’s intervention. Where reason may provide practical applications to living within the natural world, religious belief is much better at articulating a worldview wrapped in purpose and ethical understanding. Neither worldview claims to provide all of the answers, but both can coexist on top off one another to greatly benefit an individual or community.

2. History does support the claims made in the Bible.
The Bible is under constant attack from those that question the validity of its claims. Most prominent in the eyes of Christians is the truth claims of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. The 20th century has been rife with “religious studies scholars” who have attempted to repackage Jesus as a magician, a charlatan or even a cynic philosopher. Although the Jesus Seminar and other similar groups appear to be sincere in their intentions, they are disappointing in their conclusions. Like Tom Harpur in his book, “The Pagan Christ”, they attempt to dismiss the Jesus of the gospels as an impostor or a straw man that they build up and then quickly knock down. But they don’t consider the full scope of documentation in support of Jesus (look at the earliest gospel sources and the historical writing of Josephus and others for mention of Jesus during the first century AD) or the trials and tribulations endured by the earliest followers of Jesus. I find it hard to believe that the original apostles would die for Jesus in such horrible ways if they were not convinced of Jesus’ position as savior. I could go on, but I’ll save this discussion for another time.

My most enjoyable debates are always with those that favour an existential view of the world. For Heidegger or Husserl, we could gain a worldview that there is nothing outside of our immediate understanding. Time and space are figments of our imagination. “The Nothing” is the real state of our existence. My response: wow, that sure is something! Funny how we can make something out of nothing just by talking about it. There are parallels to this existential understanding when we look at time and space in our universe and beyond. I don’t claim to understand the external world around us, but I do think it’s a bit egocentric to think that we exist strictly within our minds. And really… doesn’t that just take us back to Leibniz and his first draft of “The Matrix” in some crazy way?

So… this is my personal “40 days in the desert” story. I did my best to challenge my faith and to be tempted in the wilderness. I deliberately searched out alternate worldviews that might convince me against following Christianity. But, I wasn’t convinced. And I’m here to share my story with you.

Regardless of the source of criticism to religious debate, I remain unflinching in my belief in a God who is good, in his son who died and rose again for my sins and salvation and for the message of peace, love and forgiveness that I should live by. The Bible is a living, breathing document that retains a voice of the past while offering a roadmap for the future.

That’s it for today. Next time, we’ll discuss, My Pastoral Experiences Thus Far.

Talk soon!

Todd

Categories
philosophy

Todd’s Search for Meaning

I thought I’d take a few days to give a bit of biographical detail on my religious walk. I’ll take the next few days to give some commentary on the following topics:

  1. My background – Where I come from, what prompted my search, my ambitions, etc.
  2. Maintaining My Faith as a Philosophy Undergrad Student – this isn’t as easy as it sounds!
  3. Pastoral Experience – What have a I learned so far as a student pastor?
  4. Grad School – My experience so far at Divinity School.
  5. Next steps – Where Am I Headed? What are my plans?

Today, I’ll talk a bit about my background and what prompted me to become so strong in my faith.

I grew up in a Christian home and I went to chuch when I was little. But religion was never pushed on me as a child. I was given the choice to pursue my faith as I grew older. For a while in my teen years, I drifted away from the church. As I moved into my 20s and started to think about settling down and getting married, I started thinking about the importance of church in family life. I always had this idea that I would like to get back in tune with God, but it wasn’t until I got married that I found my way back. My wife, Julie, is a strong Christian and she became my catalyst for coming back to Church. We were married in her home church. I was baptized in that church about a year after we got married (there was no peer pressure from my wife – it was my choice.) I became comfortable going to church again as a result of these activities.

That’s all fine and good, but why the strong attraction to religion? Plenty of people find themselves going to church as a family. That doesn’t mean that they go and sign up for divinity school and have ambitions of becoming a pastor. What prompted my desire to become so closely aligned with God?

Well… around my mid-twenties, I started working on my undergrad degree part time at the University of Toronto. I was working full time and I wanted to finish my degree to further my career and also for the personal benefits of additional education. And, I was experiencing a reawakening of my faith, so I thought what better topic to study than my belief in God and my interest in Chrisitanity. So, I enrolled in a specialist program in philosophy and religious studies.

This was just what I needed: the chance to learn more about my faith from experts in the field. Little did I know when I enrolled that this program that many of the thoughts that I would run into during this time would challenge the established views of the church. I’ll speak more on this next time though. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

My goal during my undergrad was to firmly establish my faith and to learn how to intelligently articulate my faith to others. I wasn’t happy to just say that I believed because that’s what I was taught in Sunday school as a kid. I needed to be able to understand and explain my faith to others in a way that made sense.

And, I also used my undergrad years to temper my faith. I quietly researched potential career options in ministry during my undergrad years, but I kept I pretty quiet as I wanted to see just how serious I was and I wanted to make sure that my interest in Christian ministry wasn’t just a short term fad.

Well, I’m well into my graduate degree, and there are no signs of waning passion for ministry. So… looks like my faith has survived so far.

Stay tuned! Next time, we’ll discuss Maintaining My Faith as a Philosophy Undergrad Student.

Talk soon!

Todd