Spirit, Love, and Grace | Paul Tillich

Paul TillichTheologically speaking, Spirit, love, and grace are one and the same reality in different aspects. Spirit is the creative power; love is its creation; grace is the effective presence of love in man.

—Paul Tillich in Amos Yong, Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 79-80.

A Eulogy for My Dad

David Harold Barkley

David Harold Barkley

I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “welter and waste” lately. We spent the last week of Dad’s life in Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto which is coincidentally a ten minute walk away from my favourite theological bookstore. It was there I found Robert Atler’s translation of the Torah.

The Torah begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2 NIV). The NIV says “formless and empty.” The King James reads “without form, and void.” Robert Atler chose “welter and waste.” You’ll have to forgive this eulogy for sounding like a sermon, but I am a preacher after all!

By the time Dad reached his last days with us, the cancer had ravished his body. Bladder and bone, liver and lungs had all taken the hit. When I looked at him in the hospital bed, “welter and waste” seemed an apt description. But Dad wasn’t always like this.

Dad’s Interests

Sometimes I wonder why I have so many hobbies. Almost everything interests me. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I picked this up from my Dad. Dad was a true renaissance man, interested by many things.

I remember going on rockhounding trips with Dad and Allen Burnett as a kid, blasting and uncovering apatite crystals. One of my favourite stories about Dad comes from my buddy Brian Lachine who was camping at Pancake Bay on Lake Superior. Unbeknownst to him, my parents were camping at that same park at the same time. Brian was at his campsite when he noticed a man walking down the beach carrying some large rocks. He thought to himself, “That looks like Mr. Barkley stealing rocks from a Provincial Park. Wait, it is Mr. Barkley stealing rocks from a Provincial Park!” Of course, the idea of theft wouldn’t have crossed Dad’s mind. He claimed that shoreline as his own long before the Provincial Park was formed.

Dad loved woodworking. I remember spending hours with him cutting, routing, drilling, and sanding the heart-shaped candle favours for Kathy and Nathan’s wedding. The table you passed by on your way into the church is Dad’s handiwork. Dad also loved gardening. The hydrangeas on his table were grown by him. My mom and sister were out a couple nights ago gathering all of his tomatoes off the vine before the frost hit!

Traveling and camping were also high on Dad’s list. He loved to see the world. Mom, Kathy, and I have many good memories of our annual summer trips to MacGregor Point Provincial Park and Sauble Beach. I am so happy that Mom and Dad were able to take their cross-country trip to BC and down the Oregon coast that Dad had always dreamed of last year. Those are memories that my Mom will always carry with her.

Dad’s Quirks

I’m going to miss all of the quirks that made my Dad so unique. He had a interesting understanding of language. We didn’t pick raspberries, we picked “wrass–berries”. We didn’t eat at A&W (one of his favourite fast-food joints), we ate at “good old Arthur and Walters.” You have no idea how disappointed I was when I learned that the business was actually formed by Allen & Wright. They will always be Arthur and Walters to me.

If you drove over a railway track with Dad, you’d hear it called the “Iron Horse,” the “Chemin de Fer”. I was always slightly confused why he lapsed into the French Language at this point. Ever since an early trip to Quebec when some locals gave him misleading directions, he avoided that language!

My Dad was the consummate handyman. He could fix anything, given enough duct tape. I’m actually speaking literally here. Nathan and I were in his workshop earlier this week. When we looked up at the plenum, we noticed one of the vent holes was capped by multiple strips of duct tape. Red Green would be proud.

Dad’s Character

In the end, it is not Dad’s interests or his quirks that will linger. It’s his character that he has instilled in the people he loved.

Dad deeply loved his family. That is something that none of us has ever had to question. He was simply there for us whenever we needed him. Last October I shingled my roof and my then 71 year old Father was up there with Nathan and I slinging shingles.

Kathy, of course, was a special treasure to him. When I was young I remember my Dad teaching me how to walk to school on those mornings when the temperature would dip below -30 degrees. He taught me to pull my toque down over my ears and walk backwards into the wind to avoid frostbite on your face. I recall many mornings walking backwards towards the high-school, planning my route through the old Home Hardware building to work some feeling back into my frozen cheeks. Kathy, on the other hand, just had to smile at Dad with those big eyes and say, “I’m a blessing,” and Dad would drive her to school!

Dad loved his grandkids, and I can see a lot of Grandpa in each of them. Mom has told me how he prayed for them every night that that would grow up to be good men and women of God.

Dad loved my Mom, even when he didn’t quite know how to show it. I think we all remember that October when Dad bought Mom a dust-buster for their anniversary! Sometimes he taught us what not to do! All joking aside, Mom was the true love of his life, and she loved him. They would have been married 47 years today.

Dad knew how to love because he knew and loved Jesus. He lived his whole life for God. I unzipped his Bible cover a few days ago and found that most of the pages were highlighted. Mom let me know that Dad didn’t like devotional literature. He preferred the pure stuff. Every morning he would read straight from the Bible.

Dad taught us how to be steadfast and hardworking. When times got tough financially, he simply took a second cleaning job on the side and made more money. I have a memory of waking up in a hotel room in Florida in the middle of the night while on a family trip. I noticed that the light was on in the hotel bathroom. I later learned that Dad was in there, while on his holidays, studying for his Real Estate license.

Dad did all of this without complaining. Brian, Nathan, and I have a rule on our camping trips that if you complain you don’t get invited to the next trip. Dad would have had no trouble here. I remember that horrible day in the Cancer wing of Kingston General Hospital when Dr. Kumar informed Dad that the supposedly isolated bladder cancer had metastasized through the bladder wall and was now stage four, dotting his lungs and tail bone. Dad didn’t cry or complain like the rest of us. He just acknowledge that “it is what it is” and tried to figure out how best to fight it.

I want to thank all the friends and family who have helped us in so many ways throughout Dad’s battle with cancer. You were there for Dad in the same way that we all know he would have been there for us if the tables were turned. You drove Dad to the hospital for those seemingly endless appointments. You brought us food when we didn’t feel like preparing any for ourselves. You wrote words of encouragement that strengthened us when things looked bleak. Thank you.

Can we go back to “welter and waste”? That was the state of creation when God’s Spirit hovered over it and created something beautiful. The Spirit of God hovered over simple elements – oxygen, carbon, hydrogen – and created someone as unique and amazing as my Dad. His creating work is not over.

The same Spirit that hovered over the primordial elements of creation raised Jesus from the dead after his battle with mortality. That same Spirit lived inside of my Dad by his faith in Jesus. So here’s the good news: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:11 NIV).

My Dad is with Jesus now. He is free from the pain that dogged him this past year. He is free from the anxiety of watching his loved ones worry about him. He is, simply, free, awaiting the day when the Spirit of God will once again move over the “welter and waste” he left behind and create a new body fit for the world to come.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

Atler, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Practice-led Theology or Thinking Theology Through Practice | Neil Ferguson

The cover of Ferguson's Practice-led TheologyImagine an old-fashioned scale with trays on both sides. On one side stacked with books and theories. The other side is filled with the experiences of our lives. The scale weighs head knowledge against heart knowledge or thinking against doing. The university has traditionally tipped the scale on the side of theory while practitioners around the world claim that they discover real knowledge on the experiential side.

For the Christian, this scale can be viewed through James’ words on faith and works—they need one another. The true Christian cannot live solely in her head nor in her heart. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Practice-led research is a way to balance the scale. Practice-led research affirms that there is legitimate knowledge to be found in and through experience, but that experience needs to be critically reflected upon.

In his PhD dissertation, Neil Ferguson gathers the disparate threads of practice-led research and develops a definition that is neither too narrow (it has application beyond the art and design world where practice-led research was born) nor too broad to be of any practical use. He then illustrates his definition with numerous potential practice-led projects in the field of theology.

Ferguson’s dissertation brings clarity to a muddy field and provides a practical way to do practice-led research in any field, including theology.

Ferguson, Neil. “Practice-Led Theology or Thinking Theology Through Practice.” PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, Australia, 2014.

Blame the Poor

Theodore HiebertWhen social unrest increases, it is easy for a society to blame its poor, who are often disproportionately involved in crime and in prison populations. It requires much more courage to hold accountable, as did Habakkuk, society’s elite and powerful figures and organizations, who customarily project the privileged and institutionalize the disparity between rich and poor.

—Theodore Hiebert, The Book of Habakkuk: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections in NIB VII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 632.

The Meaning of Sunday | Joel Thiessen

The cover of Thiessen's The Meaning of SundayCanadian churches are closing. Religious identification is dropping. A full 24% of Canadians identified themselves as having zero religious ties in 2011 (94). Zero—not even Christmas and Easter piety!

In The Meaning of Sunday, Thiessen surveys the quantitative data while adding his own qualitative analysis. Through interviews with ninety Canadians from across the socioeconomic spectrum, Thiessen learns why religion does not mean what it used to for Canadians.

Religion is a matter of supply and demand. Researchers like Barna have argued that there is an unlimited craving for religion. If religious levels are dropping, it means that the supply is flawed—we need to do church better. This analysis has led to a rash of church-help books and revitalize-your-congregation conferences. Thiessen argues that supply is not the problem. There is simply a colossal lack of demand for religion today.

You can see this as good news or bad. On the one hand, this is some relief for churches that struggle with declining attendance patterns. On the other hand, it demonstrates that Canada is following on Europe’s heels in racing towards a post-Christian society. Canadian immigration policy has slowed this trend because new immigrants are more religious than the Canadian norm. However, regression to the mean happens quickly, usually within one or two generations.

Thiessen’s research is hard medicine for Canadian Christians, but it’s medicine worth taking. Like an obese person stepping onto the scales at the start of a weight-loss program, The Meaning of Sunday will give Canadian Christians a realistic baseline for future life and ministry.

Thiessen, Joel. The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.