Monday, February 19, 2018

Summer 2018 Lecture Topics

May 1, Tues (7:30 pm):  Philosophy Before Socrates. Socrates, his student Plato, and Plato's student Aristotle are often credited with founding Western philosophy. Nevertheless, even great thinkers do not emerge ex nihilo, but rather are born into an existing context and paradigm that the build from, respond to, and react against.  We'll look at the Pre-Socratic philosophers and how their ideas created the ground from which Socrates' own thought emerged.

May 8, Tues (7:30 pm):  Paganism in the Bible. We will look at indications in the Old Testament that the dominant religion of the elites and commoners was predominantly pagan during the First Temple Period.

May 15, Tues (7:30 pm):  Revelatory Performance: The Gold Plates an Otherworldly Relic". Brent Metcalfe, editor of New Approaches to the Book of Mormonwill discuss the historical accounts of those who encountered the golden plates, the putative source of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon dictation. Scholars have long grappled with the materiality of the record, generally concluding along the lines of belief that Joseph Smith possessed either an authentic ancient artifact or a forged modern prop. Metcalfe critiques these arguments within the collective magical worldview of Joseph Smith (revelatory performance) and his cadre of believers (revelatory audience).

May 22, Tues (7:30 pm): Reanimating Soul:  Discovering Aristotle's Brain. Aristotle is the most influential philosopher in the Western intellectual tradition. Our guest lecturer, Dr. Michael Adam Ferguson of Harvard Medical School unfolds the prescience of Aristotle's genius as illuminated by contemporary neural imaging. Attendees are invited to consider seriously the reanimation of soul by science.

May 29, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Great Schism: Greek East vs. Latin West. We'll look at the breakdown in the relationship between the churches of Rome and Constantinople, which included petty personality conflicts, diverging political interests, and a few fundamental disagreements.  We'll also look at how and why the rift has never been healed despite repeated attempts for the past 1,000 years.  

June 5, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "Defending Your Life". Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks star in a philosophical comedy about the meaning of life.  We'll watch the movie together and share thoughts on this topic.

June 12, Tues (7:30 pm):  Ptolemaic Cosmology. For 2,000 years prior to Copernicus, astronomers believed that the Earth was at the center of a cosmos, surrounded by a series of celestial spheres.  We'll consider how the Ptolemaic system worked (and didn't work), why it proved so durable, and why the Catholic Church remained invested in the system even after scientists like Galileo began to argue in favor of heliocentrism. 

June 19, Tues (7:30 pm):  Homosexuality and the Bible. In honor of Toronto Pride, we will take a look of what the Bible does and doesn't have to say about homosexuality.  In contrast to the claims of many Evangelical Christians, the component texts of the Bible do not condemn same-sex orientation.  We'll look at how verses from Sodom and Gomorrah to Leviticus to Paul are routinely misread.

June 26, Tues (7:30 pm):  The Avesta and Zarathustra. Zoroastrianism is often cited as the first world religion, whose ideas heavily influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  We'll take a close look at Zoroastrianism's earliest book of scripture, the Gathas — 17 hymns in the Avesta attributed to Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster).  We'll consider how the Gathas differed from the earlier Persian paganism and how they influenced the Bible.

July 3, Tues (7:30 pm):  Was Machiavelli Machiavellian?  Humanist politician and philosopher Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli has been called the first modern man and the father of political science.  His book The Prince, is among the most influential books in the Western canon and has given rise to our adjective "Machiavellian" to describe unscrupulous politicians. We'll look closely at The Prince and Machiavelli's other writings to consider his political philosophy and to ask whether the author himself was "Machiavellian". 

July 17, Tues (7:30 pm):  Revisiting the Apocrypha. During the Reformation, Martin Luther and Protestant Christians argued that everyone should be able to read the Bible in his or her own language, instead of keeping the texts the responsibility of clergy trained in Latin.  When they went back to the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, they realized that the Latin Christian Bible included a number of books that Jews did not consider scripture.  The Reformers stripped these books from the canon, calling them the "Apocrypha" or hidden books.  We'll take a look at these books that the Reformers hid away and consider why they made it into the early Christian canon and not the Jewish canon.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter and Spring 2018 Lecture Topics

Our History, Philosophy, & Theology Group will meet every Tuesday evening in January, February, and March.

January 2, Tues (7:30 pm):History of the CalendarFor New Year’s we’ll look at our eclectic calendar: divided into base-sixty minutes and seconds, 24-hour days (with AM and PM halves), weeks of 7 days (named for Anglo-Saxon and Roman gods), 12 months “moonths” (named for Roman gods or numerals) that don’t correspond with the actual lunar cycle. We’ll recount the history of our calendar and compare it to other historic and current calendars.

January 9, Tues (7:30 pm): A Brief Biography of the DevilAlthough Christians have always read the Devil into the Garden of Eden's serpent, and John Milton wrote the character's role back further into the pre-existent heavens in "Paradise Lost," the Devil as he is now conceived did not exist in Israelite religion of the First Temple Period. We will look at the origin and evolution of our modern ideas about this character.

January 16, Tues (7:30 pm): Greco-Roman Stoicism. Stoicism was perhaps the most popular school of Greek philosophy in the Roman Empire, as exemplified by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who lived his life as an actual Stoic philosopher-king. We'll look at the ethics and world-view of the Stoics and consider Stoicisms' value for individuals and its possible impact on later Roman society, as well as the degree to which Stoic virtues continue to be admired today.

January 23, Tues (7:30 pm): Evangelicalism: The First Modern Religion. Evangelical Christianity emerged in the West in tandem with the rise of the liberal, secular state.  As a result, although seemingly challenged by modernity, this influential movement within Christianity has been well adapted to thrive as a reaction against modernity.  Our guest lecturer, Brian Carwana, Director of the Encounter World Religions Centre, has made the study of Evangalicalism the topic of religious studies dissertation. 

January 30, Tues (7:30 pm): Three Popes, One Church (1378–1417). During the later 14th Century, Western Christianity was divided on the question of who was the legitimate successor to St. Peter: the Pope in Rome or the Pope in Avignon?  An ecumenical council was called in Pisa to settle the question, which deposed both rivals and appointed a new Pope.  However, neither pope recognized the council's authority and thus from 1378 onward, Western Christianity had three Popes: one in Rome, one in Avignon, and one in Pisa.  We'll look at this interesting history but also talk about the background ideas of authority, divine monarchy vs. representative councils, and the division of church and state.

February 6, Tues (7:30 pm): The Ethiopic Book of Enoch. The Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes a number of books not found in the Catholic or Protestant canons.  The Book of Enoch was considered scripture to many early Christians and Jews, including the author of the New Testament Book of Jude.  We'll look at this interesting apocalypse with its vision of angels and devils and consider its context within the apocalyptic tradition.

February 13, Tues (7:30 pm): Lost Christianities. All modern Christian sects are descended from the early "proto-Orthodox" Christians who successfully defined their doctrines and practices as correct.  We'll look at early Christianities that lost out, including Jewish Christians who argued for the continued relevance of Mosaic Law, and Gnostic Christians who rejected the Hebrew Bible altogether.

February 20, Tues (7:30 pm): Constructing Ancient Israelite Identity. How did the "Twelve Tribes" of Israel emerge from their ethnically related Canaanite neighbors?  In a follow-up to his lecture on the emergence of Israelite monotheism from Canaanite polytheism, Leandro Palacios will look at the legendary narratives recorded in the Bible and tease out the underlying pre-history of Israelite identity.

February 27, Tues (7:30 pm): Plato's Cave. The famous Allegory of the Cave is central to understanding Plato's argument that the perfect world of ideas is more real than the mutable physical world of our senses.  We'll dig into the allegory in depth and consider Pre-Socratic philosophical questions that led Plato to propose this radical solution, and also the legacy of Platonism to the present day.

March 6, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "I Heart Huckabees." Text to follow.

March 13, Tues (7:30 pm): The Failure of England's First Reigning Queen. When Henry I's heir, William Adelin, died in the White Ship disaster, the king made all his noble's swear to support his daughter Mathilda as heiress.  But upon Henry's death, most of these same nobles preferred to forget their oaths and recognize Henry's nephew Stephen as king, plunging the realm into civil war.  We'll look at the steep hurdles Queen Mathilda faced attempting to exercise authority over men in the Middle Ages and consider the extent to which these same gender biases continue to the present day.

March 20, Tues (7:30 pm): Joseph Smith's Redefinition of God. When Joseph Smith first described his vision in the grove, it was an orthodox view of Christ's forgiveness of sin. The Book of Mormon likewise described a trinitarian view of God, although modalist in its understanding. By the end of his life, Smith retold the First Vision story with "two distinct personages," and espoused theological propositions that seemed to reject Western monotheism itself.  We'll look at the implications of Smith's late Nauvoo-era theology.

April 3, Tues (7:30 pm): The Passion as Myth. Beyond the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth under the Roman prefecture of Pontius Pilate, how much of the gospel accounts of the "Passion" story are historical?  In honor of Easter, we'll look at the case made by a number of Biblical scholars that the Passion story largely does not reflect historical memory, but instead was composed by early Christians who pieced together verses of the Hebrew Bible to construct the narrative as we have it.

April 10, Tues (7:30 pm): Afterlife for Pagans. Resurrection and eternal life in heaven has often been cited as a reason for Christianity's success against Paganism. To consider this proposition, we need to look in more depth at how different pagan religions envisioned the afterlife.

April 17, Tues (7:30 pm): Mysticism of the Sufis. From the famous whirling dervishes to poets and ascetics, Sufism cuts across Muslim sectarian divides and provides an important, inward dimension for the religion, which receives little notice outside the movement. This presentation will be given by Brian Carwana, director of the Encounter World Religions Centre.  Later in the fall, we will have a followup presentation by Shaheen Bagha.

April 24, Tues (7:30 pm): Who Wrote Genesis?  Genesis contains two creation stories, two entwined versions of the Flood story, two alternate lists of "begats", and three versions of the story of a patriarch and his wife staying with a foreign king during a time of famine.  We'll look at how the "Documentary Hypothesis" seeks to explain clear seams in the Biblical text, and what we can know about the Bible's underlying authors and editors.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Re-Working Lyrics

Community of Christ Sings is an amazing resource that allows us to sing our theology and mission with every hymn.  In part this was facilitated by revising the lyrics of treasured heritage hymns so that they better convey the increased understanding of the church in the 21st century.  As the church moves forward, there is ongoing need to revisit, revise, and renew lyrics so that hymns may continue to convey messages that call us forward.

To that end, I would love to enlist the talents of lyricists and poets across the church to update hymns in Community of Christ Sings so that they better convey the identity, mission, message, and beliefs of the church's path forward.

One that I'd love to have new lyrics for is CCS #350, "We Are a Family of Faith."  This is a very fun song, sort of an anthem of the church and its name, that we've enjoyed singing, especially in intergenerational contexts.  However, its theology seems pretty literal and does not convey the kind of message we'd like to teach children.  I love the line "we have a mission that's clear" --- I'd like to see that immediately pull into a focus on the Mission Initiatives.  Instead, it implies that our clear mission is "to praise our Savior's name," which is something Evangelical Christians might sing.  I would also prefer to avoid the primary definition of the church as being a family "of faith." Faith is an important component of the church, but I'd rather have something else missional up front, if possible.

I'm marking up the lyrics I'd like to see changed, and will appreciate any help creating new lyrics that are more missional.  (Obviously, as many more lyrics as are necessary can be changed, but these are the ones that I'd like to see eliminated.)

We are a family of faith;
we have a Savior who’s kind.
We lift each other up.
We leave no one behind,
and if the least of us should stumble,
we all feel the pain:
Community of Christ is our name.

We are a family of faith;
we have a mission that’s clear:
to praise our Savior’s name.
We help build Zion here.
And we seek peace between the nations,
love between us all;
Community of Christ is our call.

We are a family of faith
and we look forward to the day
we see our Savior’s face, 
he wipes our tears away, 
and all the saints of every nation
rise to die no more: 
Community of Christ evermore!

We are a family of faith;
we have a Savior who’s kind.
We lift each other up.
We leave no one behind,
and if the least of us should stumble,
we all feel the pain:
Community of Christ is our name.

I do like the fact that we have a number of modern songs in the hymnal, but unfortunately, the content of these hymns tends to be pop Evangelical "praise" which, I think, at best can be described as meaningless/contentless, but more realistically borders on idolatry.  An example is #252 "Blessed Be Your Name."  This praise song has an interesting melody, but no content.  It would be wonderful again if the lyrics were replaced with something that had meaning, so that the hymn could actually be used and sung.  I'm marking the lyrics that should be replaced:

Blessed be your name
in the land that is plentiful,
where your streams of abundance flow;
blessed be your name.
Blessed be your name
when I’m found in the desert place.
Though I walk through the wilderness,
blessed be your name.
Every blessing you pour out 
I’ll turn back to praise. 
When the darkness closes in, 
Lord, still I will say, 
“Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your name. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your glorious name.”
Blessed be your name
when the sun’s shining down on me,
when the world’s “all as it should be.”
Blessed be your name.
Blessed be your name
on the road marked with suffering;
though there’s pain in the offering,
blessed be your name.
Every blessing you pour out 
I’ll turn back to praise. 
When the darkness closes in, 
Lord, still I will say, 
“Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your name. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord, 
blessed be your glorious name.” 

This is something that isn't in my immediate wheelhouse of talents.  If you are a poet or lyricist, your work on improving our hymns will be very appreciated.  We'll use updated hymns in Toronto congregation and create online and other resources crediting lyricists.  We very much appreciate your help!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fall and Winter 2017 Lecture Topics

Our History, Philosophy, & Theology Group met on selected Tuesday evenings September, October, November, and December.

September 19, Tues (7 pm): Life Atop a PillarSimeon Stylites spent 37 years of his life on top of a pillar near the city of Aleppo, Syria, during the 5th century AD. We'll look at why anyone would do such a thing in context, consider the appeal of the extreme ascetic life, and how it resulted in impressive "spiritual power" that allowed Simon and his fellow ascetics to overturn and destroy reverence for the old pagan gods, whose traditions and shrines had existed for centuries and millennia.

October 3, Tues (7 pm): Neither Holy, Nor Roman, Nor an EmpireBy the time it was unceremoniously extinguished by Napoleon in 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was a curious relic. Decried as "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire" the entity's very existence seemed self-contradictory in the modern world. We'll look at the entity's history to see how it once had legitimately been the Empire, Roman, and holy in the Middle Ages, only to outlive the Medieval definition of these words when the idea of universals was abandoned in the wake of nationalism.

October 10, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "The Name of the Rose" (1986). No formal presentation, but we’ll take a break and watch the film, “The Name of the Rose,” which is a mystery set against a transformational time in the Middle Ages, as the West begins to recover the works of Aristotle and has to reconcile his philosophy with Christian theology.

October 17, Tues (7:30 pm): Mapping Christian SchismChristianity may be the world’s largest religion, but it’s anything but unified.  How did we get from a tiny Jewish reform movement in the hinterland of the Roman Empire to the present diversity of thousands of denominations and sects?  The presentation will attempt to map out connections and divisions using original diagrams.

October 24, Tues (7:30 pm): World's Apart: Comparing Medieval World Maps from Norman Sicily and England. The Normans conquered two great island kingdoms in the Middle Ages: England and Sicily. Their courts produced two great mapping traditions, represented by the Hereford Mappamundi in England and the maps accompanying Idrisi's "Book of Roger" in Sicily. We will use these two different traditions to paint contrasting pictures of the worldviews each represents.  

November 7, Tues (7:30 pm): Plato, Aristotle, and Christianity. As its history is often told, Christianity is an offshoot of ancient Judaism, which spread through the Roman Empire alongside other Eastern mystery religions prior to its great success with the conversion of Constantine. We'll look at the surprising degree of continuity between pagan Roman philosophy and Christian Roman theology and ask the degree to which Plato and Aristotle should be listed among Christianity's founders.

November 14, Tues (7:30 pm): Examining the Ontological Argument for God. Anselm of Canterbury was one of the greatest thinkers of the Middle Ages whose work was crucial in the revival of logic and philosophy in the Medieval West. Using logical argument, Anselm created a proof for the existence of God called the "ontological argument."  We'll consider his argument and also ask what Anselm's work can tell us about the Medieval Christian conception of the Divine. 

December 5, Tues (7:30 pm): Jesus' Jewish Roots. Jesus and his original followers were Jews, but because the first Christians quickly went into schism with their former co-religionists, Jesus' Jewish roots have often been obscured. We will look at the historical Jesus and the earliest Christian groups within the context of Second Temple Judaism and contemporary Jewish religion and sects.

December 12, Tues (7:30 pm): The Diverse Expressions of Islam. Islam is not monolithic, but includes a wide diversity of ideas and traditions that have evolved in the fourteen centuries since the death of the prophet Muhammad. Guest lecturer Shaheen Bagha will present a brief introduction and historical overview of these rich and diverse traditions. 

December 19, Tues (7:30 pm): Yahweh and the Canaanite Pantheon. Before the God of Israel was understood to be the sole omnipotent God of the universe, Yahweh (or "Jehovah") was worshiped as part of a pantheon of gods that included Ba'al, El, and Asherah. Guest lecturer Leandro Palacios will present an introduction to ancient Canaanite mythology and its relationship to Israelite religion of the first temple period. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

September 10 Services at Scarborough

On Sunday September 10, Toronto Congregation will have services with our sister congregation in Scarborough in their church at 10 Eppleworth Road.  There will be no services at Toronto Centre Place on that Sunday.

Adult class will begin at 10:00 am, followed by the worship service at 11:00 am.  Following the services, all are welcome to join a salad pot luck.  Please bring salads!

Remember to bring shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, which Scarborough Congregation is coordinating this year.

Journey of a Shoebox

Summer Lectures

Our History, Philosophy, & Theology Group met on selected Tuesday evenings this July and August.

July 4, Tues (7 pm): The King of Beaver IslandAfter the assassination of church founder Joseph Smith, most Mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah. However, a new prophet James Strang emerged as Young’s leading rival. Strang led his Mormons to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where he was crowned king and practiced polygamy.

July 18, Tues (7 pm): The Lost Gospel QIt’s long been speculated that the authors of Matthew and Luke used a lost collection of Jesus’ sayings (called “Q” by scholars) in order to construct their own gospels. If correct, it’s possible that this lost gospel is among the earliest known writings about Jesus. What can it tell us about Jesus and the first Christians?

July 25, Tues (7 pm): The Inquisition: Medieval Heresy and IdentityThe word Inquisition is popularly associated with scenes of persecution, torture, and brutal executions that portray the medieval Church in an extremely negative light. These reprehensible and inexcusable events represent one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Church, but the facts have been distorted and exaggerated by anti-Catholic sentiments during the 19th and 20th centuries. We'll take a look at the origins and evolution of these processes of investigation and punishment in the context of law and religious developments in medieval Europe.

August 1, Tues (7 pm): Echoes of GilgameshThe epic poems about the semi-legendary King of Uruk were well known across the ancient Near East more than a millennium before the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible were composed. Some themes, elements, and characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh have counterparts in the Book of Genesis' most iconic stories: the creation, fall, and flood narratives. We will consider the academic perspective that suggests a direct Babylonian influence on the Biblical authors and the development of Israelite religion, and we will discuss how these themes continue to resonate with us 4,000 years later.

August 8, Tues (7 pm): Paganism in the BibleAlthough in its present form the Old Testament professes monotheism, the text contains many footprints that illustrate the original pagan religion of ancient Canaan. We’ll see how the Biblical narrative of “monotheists tempted by idolatry” is precisely the opposite of the actual history: “pagans who became monotheists.”

August 29, Tues (7 pm): The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. We’ll take a close look at this interesting, non-canonical text rediscovered in 1896 and compare it with other early Christian traditions of conflict between Mary Magdalene and Peter. We’ll also look at Gnosticism and other alternative forms of Christianity that ultimately lost out to Orthodoxy.