Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 in Music

Several years ago I started to drop songs into a folder in iTunes, songs that stood out to me for various reasons throughout the year. Some were brand new songs I had never heard of before. Others were ones that for various reasons I found myself returning to. I didn't grow up really listening to music, except in church, but somewhere in seminary music started to really matter to me, perhaps because it became another way for me to pray. I hope you enjoy my 2012 in music lineup. Drop me a post and let me know if you liked any of this, or even make a few suggestions of your own!

1. Led Zeppelin, "Good Time Bad Times"
2. Abney Park, "The Wrath of Fate"
3. Adele, "Someone Like You"
4. Buddy Guy, "Damn Right I've Got the Blues"
5. The Avett Brothers, "At the Beach"
6. Shelby Lynne, "Willie and Laura Mae Jones"
7. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Take Five"
8. The National, "About Today"
9. Lowercase Noises, "A Highway Shall Be There"
10. The Avett Brothers, "The Once and Future Carpenter"
11. All the Bright Lights, "Wilora Lake"
12. Reverend Jon Birch, "When I Lay My Burden Down"
13. Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box"
14. John McKenna Band, "Beautiful Dangerous"
15. The Album Leaf, "We Need Help"
16. David Bazan, "Curse Your Branches"
17. Yo-Yo Ma, "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Prélude"
18. Shelby Lynne, "Heaven's Only Days Down the Road"
19. Matt Redman, "10,000 Reasons"
20. Cambridge King's College Choir, Peter Scorer, Stephen Cleobury & Tobias Sims, "Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op. 31: XXIII. Dismissal and Blessing"
21. Kaki King, "Skimming the Fractured Surface to a Place of Endless Light"
22. Mumford & Sons, "Below My Feet"


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Monk Habits for Everyday People

At a certain point during our weekly worship gathering, I get to stand up and lead our church in a modified version of the prayers of the people. We always begin this movement of worship with silence and then confession. The silence lasts somewhere around fifteen seconds, although I always shoot for thirty. As little and insignificant as that may seem, it's intentional; and because it's a part of the liturgy of worship it's deep with meaning.

Chapter three of Dennis Okholm's book, Monk Habits for Everyday People, is called "Learning to Listen." (Read my first post here.)

Silence is not just about not talking. In fact, Benedict never urged for total silence. The restraint of speech was a matter of hospitality. Because they all lived together in a monastic community, silence was encouraged over an excessive amount of talking. Thus, one should speak only when words were necessary. Of course, this begs the question as to how one knows when words are and are not necessary. This is partly why this community practiced intentional times of silence. If you never stop talking then you are not able to know when is the right time to be silent. By practicing silence we learn when to speak and when not to speak. Of course, when they spoke intentionally it was in the form prayer, specifically reading the Psalms. This says a lot about how we learn to speak as Christians. When you begin to follow Jesus, you are just not able to speak maturely about Him. You have to learn how to speak and the Psalms, for example, can train us in this. Consider that Paul spent fourteen years after his conversion learning before he spoke in any sort of public and authoritative way. This should make us pause.

Okholm quotes Michael Casey on this, a point speaks to North American cultures situation of just utter noise. "Talk restricts our capactiy to listen, it banishes mindfulness and opens the door to distraction and escapism. Talking too much often convinces us of the correctness of our own conclusions and leads some into thinking they are wise. IT can be a subtle exercise in arrogance and superiority. Often patters of dependence, manipulation, and dominance are established and maintained by the medium of speech."

In case you're ever wondering, this is why we take time to be silent in worship. Too much is riding on the church's capacity to know when to speak and when to be silent, as well as how to speak and how to be silent.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Public Jesus (Chapter One)

Last week I mentioned that every year our church does something called The Blitz. This year were using Public Jesus by Tim Suttle. In hopes of priming the pump for this conversation, I thought I might post a few thoughts and questions from the book.

Chapter one of Public Jesus is called, "To be a Human Being in the World." Here we encounter several things:

(1) Being born and becoming conscious of a world that was here before we were.
(2) The Christian version, or story, about how we got here and why, specifically related to the book of Genesis and person of Jesus as it relates to the creation and redemption of the world.
(3) Being salt and light, which is about the public nature of Christianity.

At one point near the end of chapter Tim says, "The church is the way God is now physically present to the world."

I'm curious how this sounds to North American Protestant Evangelicals (or NAPEs as I like to call them, of which I am one) who are typically prone to view God as utterly accessible: We have a personal relationship with Jesus, God hears every single one of our prays AND answers them, and speaks to us in the process with an uncanny kind of clarity. NAPEs lean into the utterly accessible (and often times instant) side of God's relationship with the world.

It tends to be that NAPEs overplay the instant and accessible card to the detriment of a more robust ecclesiology that speaks of God being present to the world through the church. I think there's a good conversation waiting to be had here about what it means to say, to put it another way (a la Steve McCormick and the Orthodox tradition), that the church is God's new epiphany in the world, i.e. that the church is the new way through whom God is primarily related to the world. For most NAPEs we want to recapture a more robust ecclesiology BUT, I think, not without losing the sense that God has not limited the way He is present to the world. In other words, can we not also say that God does in fact move redemptively outside of the church as well?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top ten Mitt Romney solutions to our problems

On Facebook this morning, I took a jab at Obama saying: "What do you think will be talked about more today: (1) The controversial Seahawk touchdown or (2) that as the foreign heads of state were gathering for the United Nations convention, the Obama's went on The View?" See Dana Milbank's article here.

(I really should of jabbed the NFL refs as well. Oh well, next time.)

For the sake of being fair, here's a jab for Mitt as well (and no I'm not crossing sports references). Check out Juan Cole's top ten Mitt Romney solutions to our problems.

Monday, September 24, 2012

In the interest of have a better political conversation... It's all political

This is part one in a serious of posts I'm calling: In the interest of having a better political conversation...

So, in the interest of having a better political conversation... It's all political.

Politicians will typically pivot to blame their opposition for saying or doing things merely for the sake of playing politics. Case in point: Mitt Romney's criticism of Barak Obama's response to embassy attack in Libya, to which Ben LaBolt (Obama's campaign spokesman) responded that he was "shocked" that during a time like this Romney "would choose to launch a political attack."

While it's not shocking to me that people blame other people for merely playing politics when there are real issues at stake (because it happens all the time), it's frustrating that this kind of slam goes on often times without regard to the fact that it is all political and it can't be any other way and that this is not a bad thing or something to be feared. Politics, as such, isn't the enemy and shouldn't be used as a means by which one politician asserts him or herself as better than another. In fact, when you hear a politician blaming another politician for merely playing politics, you should assume that the politician doing the blaming is trying to get their agenda over on you with you know it. That's deceiving.

Politicians all over the place stand up and tell you why their plan is better than the other persons, but it's so duplicitous because as soon as they see an opportunity to take political advantage, mostly in regards to winning an election, they blame the other person for playing politics, thus setting themselves up as being more like the average person, who apparently is not political. This is demeaning.

Inherent in the slam that someone is playing politics is this notion that that person has some kind of (secret) agenda that's working you over, which is why you shouldn't trust professional politicians who spend their lives playing politics just so they can stay in power. However, inherent in the slam itself, that someone is merely playing politics, is also the notion that the one doing the slamming has a (secret) agenda, as well, that's working you over. This is what the person doing that blaming doesn't want you to know because then they can't try to back door you with their agenda.

Why not be forthcoming with it in the first place? It's all politics, which is not a contested idea. It's regularly assumed by political scientists and theologians, dating all the way back to Aristotle. Real political people don't try to hide that fact that they might have some good ideas about how this world should be organized. Whether you agree with them or not is a whole other issue, but at least they are forthcoming. And that would be refreshing.

So, watch out for what I'm calling the playing-politics-blame-game because really it's all political.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Monk Habits for Everyday People

“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people of gifted people, but deep people” (Richard Foster). This is how Dennis Okholm opens his book, Monk Habits for Everyday People. Plain and simple: the sheer noise, distraction, stimulation, and escapism that is American culture is as much against the way of Jesus as a BoSox fan is against the Yankees. While American Christians might claim the desire to cultivate such a deep spirituality, the actual practice of cultivating that spirituality often times barely gets off the ground, if it flies at all. People spend their lives either reading about it, without doing anything about it. Or they spend their energy just doing a whole bunch of things without any sense of meaning or understanding that leads to wisdom. Or they stand off to side, ignoring the nudge towards that deeper spirituality they feel in their hearts, hoping that it will just go away so that they can get back to whatever cushy life they’ve created for themselves.

Why Benedictine Spirituality? For one, because it’s so absolutely contra-celebrity. American Christians (specifically Evangelicals) tend towards the celebrity. We switch churches for the one with the new, rising star. Pastors write books, leave their churches, and go on book tours. Fame is the measure of truthfulness, aparantly. We flock to the bookstores to buy the latest book that we think will cure our spiritual apathy and delusion, rather than turning to ancient words of the Scripture, and the Psalms in particular, in order to get our bearings.

Benedictine spirituality is largely a rule of life comprised of the Scripture. It was written by a man who had so digested those ancient holy words that they couldn’t help but invade what he was writing to his monastic community. Scripture is the original rule, but Scripture is always accompanied by the lived experience of the people, which meant that it spoke to them personally. Also, in its day, the Benedictine Rule was not the hot new answer to all of our questions. Benedict stands in history as one of the great consolidators of monastic spirituality. He gathered the essentials and put them all in one place, leaving off to the side some of more arcane and, to be honest, just downright weird aspects of the monastic life (just read some of the sayings of the desert fathers). The Rule was utterly traditional, contrary to most writers today who want to sell us the latest new thing, some answer that they have discovered that no one else thought us. As a rule, the further back, and thus more inclusive one goes in the tradition, the better. New insights will be gained that will help us more forward, but not without a deep reading of the past. This is how you know who you can trust.

Okholm notes several reasons why Protestants might benefit from a Benedictine spirituality:

1. To their credit, Protestants are historically bent towards piety to begin with: daily devotions, regular worship. This is a good thing. Where a Benedictine Spirituality becomes immediately helpful is in regards to the Protestant (especially Evangelical) bent towards individualism. The monastic community (the cloister) recognizes the beautiful relationship between action and contemplation, community and solitude, engagement and withdrawal.

2. It forces Protestants to embrace a wider ecclesiology. Again, tending towards individualism, Protestants (especially Evangelicals) seem to write off too easily other parts of the Christian tradition. One way to know if you’re in the company of a safe and healthy pastor/speaker/theologian is to see how widely they read. Do they read only the books produced by Evangelical celebrities, kitsch pop-culture Christian fluff, or do they readi Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anabaptist, Anglican, African, Latino folks as well. (Note: this doesn’t mean that they are experts in all of this, but that in some way, shape, and form, their imaginations are being influences in the widest possible way. Narrow influences are an indication of narrow imagination.)

3. Protestants are good at doctrine but bad at living. The rule is a way of putting the words of Scripture and theology reflection into practice. It really is about living good days.

4. The Protestant emphasis on Scripture blends nicely with the Benedictine Rule. As I said before, Scripture is the original rule, but Scripture is always accompanied by the lived experience of the people. The Rule arose out of the depths of a man who had so immersed himself in the Scripture that it couldn’t help but invade what he was writing to his community. 

5. If nothing else, Protestants tend to write off Benedictine Spirituality without really understanding it. We need at least become better acquainted with it because it’s a part of our past.

6. Protestants are typically instant kind of Christians: Instant access to God, instant answer to prayer. We don’t do well with waiting. Benedictine Spirituality sees Christian maturity as something one attains only through a disciplined way of life. It’s the image of the athlete in training. The monastics called it asceticism. While Protestants often look back on the moment of their conversion experience and wonder why things are not as good as it was back then, the monk sees life as a kind of training for the kingdom way of life. We grow and mature, like a tree, into the fullness of life with God in Christ.


Next time: Benedicts thoughts on learning how to be silent.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"I just want to get closer to God" - On Mission, Worship, and Knowing God

Perhaps the most difficult thing for Protestant Evangelicals (PE) to embrace is that knowledge of God is absolutely related to mission. To put it bluntly, we cannot know God unless we are on mission with God. The PE vernacular of having a personal relationship with Jesus is often practiced only in the form of an emotional high during the worship service. No emotion, no high, no knowledge of God, thus the PE state of disillusionment where one is always trying to get closer to God. It's utterly circular and ultimately defeating, I know from first hand experience.

If I may borrow the PE vernacular, if you want to get closer to God (to know God), then participate in God's mission. One of the most concise places to begin to understand what God's mission is in the world is found in Matthew 25, which talks about feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst of thirsty, practicing hospitality (especially to strangers), clothing the naked, tending the sick, and visiting the prisoner. A better, more comprehensive place to begin would be the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This is just for starters...

If I may step back a bit from my original blunt statement that we can't know God unless we are on mission with God: I do believe that God speaks to those of us who are not on mission with Him, thus some kind of knowledge of God can be had. It's possible to know God is speaking to you and not to listen. In some sense you know God even if you refuse Him. My critique is for those PE's who claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who measure the status of that relationship according to an emotional high.

In some ways this is a tried argument, but until it seems there's an obvious shift in the other direction then it's important to talk about. In my region of the world, a certain kind of PE is still highly operative, whereby people still barely connect what happens during the worship service with what happens during the week. Many still can't imagine how the movements of worship (the liturgy) have a certain kind of shape to them (or at least they should, which could beg the question of what's actually happening in the worship service at your church). James K. A. Smith recently address a part of this question in a article, except that he was talking the other side of the issue which said that we don't need to gather for worship because we worship simply by living in the world. In any case, the claim for the importance of the liturgy of worship must be made.

Worship is a "hot spot," as Smith says, where we are brought in close proximity to God/the ways of God/the story of God, etc. In such close proximity, we are drawn in, transformed, and sent back out into the world. That's the shape of worship. To put it another way, God breathes us into Himself (gathers us) and then breathes us back out (scatters us). When we are breathed in, we catch a vision of the kingdom through the movements of worship. We practice the kingdom in worship and then when we are breathed back out into the world, we live the kingdom life. It's not one way or the other. They work together. Yes, one knows God through the Eucharist but only because the Eucharist is not limited to merely the bread and cup in worship. Each meal we share with each other is a kind of Eucharist.

It may just be that if we want to know God, we should at least begin to share meals together (a good "strategy" for community groups, by the way, rather than simply doing studies together, although you'd be surprised how quickly the conversation around a table can become about God). It may just be that to know God, you share you clothes, your food, your water, your time, your energy, your resources, your skills, your law practice, your words, your thoughts, your home, your laws, your school...

We don't know what God's mission is unless He draws us into it and shows us the way (worship) and by showing us the way He shows us Himself.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Public Jesus

Every year our church does something called The Blitz. The idea is that if you want to tackle the quarter back, you call for a blitz. Substitute quarterback with community and you get The Blitz. Every year we try to tackle community. Pretty simple (it’s a metaphor). Each year we intentionally sync up around some kind of teaching/practice. That's the gist.

This year we're using Public Jesus by TimSuttle. (By the way, if you haven’t already checked out some of the stuff that The House Studio is putting out, you should. It’s great for small groups and it features people such as Stanley Hauerwas and Walter Brueggemann, people who have been extremely influential in my own development.)

Tim is a good friend and pastor of Redemption Church here in Olathe, KS. I’m excited to dig into this book with the rest of the Redemption Church people. And maybe others, if you all want to participate. I’m sure it will provoke many thoughts and questions that will challenge our assumptions about what it means to confess that Jesus is Lord.

In the introduction we get a little taste of what to expect:

- “What role should our faith play in public life?”
- What does it mean to say “the public square belongs to God”?
- “What would the world be like if God were in charge?”
- How does a theology of creation inform this?
- Why is Jesus good news?
- What is the mission of God?
- Why are secularism and fundamentalism the most common ditches people fall in to?

Perhaps it could be said that the heart of Public Jesus is a “[wrestling] with all kinds of questions about what it would mean for us to live our lives as though we believe Jesus is Lord of all” (16).

Over the next few weeks, I hope to prime the pump a bit by noting some of what’s in store for us here.

Here's a quote:
"Living in the way of Jesus cannot be merely a personal, private thing because faith is meant to impact every aspect of life. God cares about all of life. I cannot check my faith at the door when I go into the supermarket, drive my car, pay my taxes, give to a charity, volunteer, cash my paycheck, or vote. Everything I do in my life - be it private or public - is meant to be informed by my most basic identity: I am a follower  of Jesus Christ, a Christian. When I live in faithfulness to Jesus as I navigate public space, I believe that I am participating in the deep and seminal reality that God is trying to bring right order to the world. My faith in Jesus must impact all that I say and do when I inhabit public space."
Also, check out one of the videos here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout

Two quotes from Elizabeth Strout's book, Abide with Me. As a minister, myself, I probably get these quotes a little (a lot) more than those who are not ministers. Still, I think they translate. Strout's book has been a surprising means of grace.

- "The minister, relieved by this assignment of something specific to do, decided he would drive to Hollywell and do his shopping there rather than risk being seen by one of his congregation close to West Annett, who might - after Sunday - wonder whether he himself had not fallen prey to the Perils of Personal Vanity. He found his wallet, his car keys, his hat, and humming softly the hymn that had come into his head, "I would be true for there are those who trust me," the man walked down the tilting porch steps" (12).

- "Tyler tapped his mouth with his fingers. He thought of Bonhoeffer writing that it was not love that sustained a marriage but the marriage that would sustain the love. Tyler wanted to mention this, but Doris's weeping had become very noisy. Tyler could not recall any parishioner making the noise Doris was making, sobs climbing on top of one another. He moved farther back in his chair" (39).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Case for Biblical Studies as a Separate Disciplines

It's weird to be blogging on a Saturday night. But since my wife is out, the kids are a sleep, and I just got done watching a movie, I figured I would hop online and see what's up. I usually don't do this because I usually find things that distract me from doing more important things like sleeping. Still, here we are.

I thought Daniel Kirk had something good to say about Biblical Studies as a separate disciplines. Apparently this is being debate elsewhere on the internet (check out the links in his blog if you like). I haven't been following that conversation, but I thought what he had to say had some merit of its own so I thought I'd give it a nod. Mostly, what he said made me pause about the task of preaching as it relates to biblical hermeneutics (Interpretation). Most notably he says,

(1) Positively, it is continuing to keep the Bible as a book to God’s people located in particular times and places in front of the church. This means both: reading it as a book written for the people of God (there is a theological dimension and it calls forth certain praxis) and that it was written in the past to people in different situations.

(2) Negatively, it serves as a gadfly, showing the church where due to cultural, philosophical, and theological blinders, it has misconstrued the words in which it thinks it finds its validation.

The second point is what makes me pause. If you want to gain the upper hand over and against the congregation, it's an easy preaching move to set yourself up as the one bearing answers to a commonly misconstrued passage of Scripture. Agreed, sometimes things need to be clarified and it's the pastors role to do so. However, if this is your normal weekly move then perhaps something is wrong. Perhaps the rule-of-thumb should be to view using the word "actually" as a warn flag against such things. The pastor does not always have to insert and actually in her sermon. A good pastor and preacher can clarify a misconstrued passage of Scripture without the people even knowing what she is doing. This is a more stealth and subversive way of doing things and perhaps more substantial in the long run.

Around the Horn

There's an ebb and flow to everything, blogging included, or perhaps especially. Here's this weeks Around the Horn. I hope it sends you down many wonderful paths.

Rob Bell released a new video.

Tim Suttle's book, Public Jesus, got a review.

Neil Gaiman is going to write another Sandman graphic novel!

Bo Sanders offers an Evangelical Support for Same-Sex Marriage.

Scot McKnight talks about Jesus (via Resurrected Living). And posted a good story about a boy named Joshua doing good things in his neighborhood.

The top 500 most visited websites.

Thumbtack Russian Roulette. Seriously, this is funny. I don't usually pass around things like this, but it's really funny. DON'T try this at home!


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Science Should Affirm Only What I Already Believe

Christians like science as long as it says nothing about the doctrine of creation (cosmology). Science can give us cool pictures of Mars, the cure for cancer, or a microwave oven, but don't mess our D.O.C! To such a thing, many Christians refuse to be honest, closing their eyes and ears. That's the irony Dr. Katherine Sonderegger points out in the paragraph below.

Incidentally, so far in Mapping Modern Theology, hers is by far the best chapter.

"Most Christians in the modern era have taken in stride scientific findings when applied to medicine or agriculture or urban life: Christians too hope for a medical breakthrough in the curing of disease, or breathe easier when a camera discovers miners trapped deep within a collapsing shaft, or feel relief when finally the lights spring back to life after a major storm. The technological reach of modern science - though in itself a worry for many Christian ecologists - has not been seen on the whole as a threat to Christian dogma. But it is otherwise with cosmology - and with evolution - the modern biological account of the genesis of animal and human species on earth. These are neuralgic [see definition below] points in the modern Christian doctrine of creation, and many, in the English-speaking world especially, when they hear of the scientific doctrine of the origin of all things and of humankind, still find it 'a cruel task to be honest.'"

*Neuralgic - "Sharp and paroxysmal [or sudden] pain along the course of a nerve." Imagine you have a cavity and keep breathing in air really fast.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

My Ordination: A Brief Reflection

I'm gearing up to "participate" in my first District Assembly in a long time. I say "participate" because I'm really just going to share in the experience. I have no "business" to attend to. For the last few years I have been approved by my denomination for what's called "Special Service/Interdenominational," or SPC status. This has allowed me to remain in good standing with my home denomination, The Church of the Nazarene, while at the same time being an Associate Pastor at Redemption Church, a non-denominational church in Olathe, KS. I'm very ecumenical.

And I'm very thankful.

Of the weeks event, I'm mostly looking forward to hearing Jeren Rowell preach at the Celebration and Vision Service. There is a good chance that my wife and I would have ended up at his church had he not been called to be the Superintendent of the Kansas City District. I look forward to hearing the good news!

In light of all this, I have found myself reflecting on my call and ordination as a pastor. Six years ago I kneeled at an alter with the my bible open to the Sermon on the Mount as Rev. James Diehl put his hands on my head and through the Holy Spirit affirmed in me, with all of the weight and strength of many centuries worth of pastors who have gone before me, the rite of ordination. I am a baby, indeed, in all of this. I have barely learned to walk and speak, but I know the end towards whom I am headed. I know the one who called. I know the one who has his thumb in my back urging me to live into this call (thanks, Grandpa, for helping me see it this way). It is with great joy, pain, and hope that I read (and with God's help, affirm) these words again:

"The core duties of a pastor are: To pray. To preach the word. To equip the saints for work in the ministry. To administer the sacraments. To care for the people by pastoral visitation, particularly the sick and needy. To comfort those who mourn. To correct, rebuke, and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction."

With God's help, indeed.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Do you agree? Bruce McCormack on what is Modern Theology

"'Modern' theology emerged, in my view, at the point at which (on the one hand) church-based theologians ceased trying to defend and protect the received orthodoxies of the past against erosion and took up the more fundamental challenge of asking how the theological values resident in those orthodoxies might be given an altogether new expression, dressed out in new categories for reflection. It was the transition, then, from a strategy of 'accommodation' to the task of 'mediation' that was fundamental in the ecclesial sphere. In philosophy, as it relates to the theological enterprise (on the other hand), the defining moment that effected a transition entailed a shift from a cosmologically based to an anthropologically based metaphysics of divine being."

- Bruce L. McCormack in Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction, 3

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is The Dark Knight a better Trilogy than The Lord of the Rings?

Who would win in a fight: The Dark Knight or the Lord of the Rings?

Check out Craig Detweiler's article, here, where he hashes out his reasons for suggesting why DK is a better trilogy than LotR. (The underlying assumption being that these are the two best trilogies of the last ten years).

The basis for his thinking is centered on the question of violence, particularly the kind of violent world we live in now (The DK era) versus then (The LotR era). He is banking his argument on that fact that the world changed in such a way in 2001 that the LotR no longer speaks to the kind of violent world we live in, but the DK does. The former, he suggest, speaks to a post WWII world while the latter speaks to a terrorist/vigilante kind of world.

What do you think? Is this enough to warrant the DK as a better trilogy than the LotR?

Don't feel like you have to uses his categories, though. Make your own argument.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Evolution and the Bible: At Least They're Hearing Each Other Out

I came across this piece recently in the Huffington Post by Travis Loller called Evangelical Scientists Debate Evolution and Bible. I'm still not sure if "Evangelical Scientist" is an oxymoron, but it caught my attention that a professor (Darrel Falk) from my alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University, was a part of the conversation.

The article is praising a healthy debate taking place between Southern Baptists seminary professors and Evangelical scientists. The debate is happening over at BioLogos. Here's their tagline: "BioLogos is a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith, guided by the truth that 'all things hold together in Christ'" (Colossians 1:17).

The debate is about halfway over and so far Falk is hopeful, saying, "I don't think our differences are anywhere near as great as people might have thought." Of course, there's always Al Mohler: "Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, a young-earth creationist, has called the attempt to reconcile evangelicals to evolution a 'direct attack upon biblical authority.'"

I'm glad they're talking.

Monday, July 23, 2012

David Bentley Hart on Faith and Reason

"One can believe that faith is mere credulous assent to unfounded premises, while reason consists in a pure obedience to empirical fact, only if one is largely ignorant of both. It should be enough, perhaps, to point to the long Christian philosophical tradition, with all its variety, creativity, and sophistication, and to the long and honorable tradition of Christianity's critical examination and reexamination of its own historical, spiritual, and metaphysical claims. But more important in some ways, it seems to me, is to stress how great an element of faith is present in the operations of even the most disinterested rationality. All reasoning presumes premises or intuitions or ultimate convictions that cannot be proved by any foundations or facts more basic than themselves, and hence there are irreducible convictions present wherever one attempts to apply logic to experience. One always operates within boundaries established by one's first principles, and asks only the questions that those principles permit."

- David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and It's Fashionable Enemies, 101

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do you believe in extraterrestials? If so, are they saved?

I've asked this question before. If Jesus is the way, truth, and life (as many confess) what happens if there is life on other planets in our galaxy or other galaxies, for that matter? What does it mean to claim that the Word became flesh, human flesh, presumably? Is God's election of a people and a person - and thus the world, galaxy, or universe - a singularly significant reality/event or just something significant for our particular galaxy? Are there other versions of the salvation story to be experience in other galaxies? These questions are hitting closer and closer to home. There may just be a mad dash to the science fiction section at the bookstore for ways of processing these questions! Looks like people are going to need a crash course in imagination. Thomas O'Meara, OP is one of the first I've seen really ponder this question, although I'm sure there are others. Who else is writing about these things from a theological perspective? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

10 Signs You Should Not Be Getting Married In A Church

Not sure I agree with everything, but I thought this was interesting:

10 Signs You Should Not Be Getting Married in a Church
By Lillian Daniel (Huffington Post)
Posted: 07/10/2012 12:37 pm

10 Signs You Should Not be Getting Married in a Church
  1. You find yourself asking the clergy to take all the references to Jesus out of the service.
  2. You find yourself dreading your next meeting with the minister.
  3. You find yourself dreading the service, worried that the minister will say something too religious.
  4. You disagree with the core values of the church.
  5. You find the core values of the church so uninteresting that you can just tune them out, no problem.
  6. You are not a member of any faith community and neither one of you intends to be.
  7. This location feels like a choice you both are making for somebody else, rather than for yourselves.
  8. You and your partner have never talked about religion, and you have serious doubts that you will ever be able to.
  9. This experience feels like just another wedding transaction, one more service provider to check off the list.
  10. You can't wait for the reception.

10 Signs You Might be in the Right Place After All
  1. You have drifted from the church, but as you prepare for your wedding you find yourself seeking a community of faith.
  2. You enjoy meeting the minister and appreciate the chance to focus on matters of the spirit in the midst of wedding planning stress.
  3. You have worshipped here and found yourself moved.
  4. You want your marriage to be associated with this place and its core values.
  5. You can imagine the members of this church holding you in prayer.
  6. You sense that your marriage is about more than the two of you.
  7. You find yourself praying.
  8. This experience is causing you and your partner to talk about your faith and your aspirations for a faith community as a couple.
  9. You don't have it all figured out yet, but this church feels like a blessing to start you on your way.
  10. You can't wait for the wedding.

"... a community associated with Jesus' name."

"A range of people---those attracted to the Christian proposition, those who clearly affirm it, and those with even more robust affirmations of the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ---join together in a community associated with Jesus' name. They seek to live in ways consistent with his life and teaching, even while doubts may remain unresolved and the exact implications of his teachings only gradually become clear. Out of the evolving practices of worship, study, and discipleship, some degree of shared belief may well emerge, even if complete convergence of belief is unlikely."

- Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith, 147


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Speaking "Christian" during an election year

My friend Tim wrote an article for Sojourners based on his new book (with DVD) called Public Jesus.

It's worth a read, especially if you're either Christian or an American (maybe even both at the same time) and if you're tired of the same old Liberal vs. Conservative, Republican vs. Democrat split.

A faith subject to revision

"These questions are a reminder that our epistemic 'levels' are really just convenient points along a continuum and that, for any individual believer, the location of any particular claim along that continuum is subject to revision in light of new arguments, new experiences, and new discoveries. One can say with some confidence, at any particular moment, which claims appear to be better justified than others, but one must also acknowledge the ongoing religious and theoretical attraction of claims that one cannot, at the moment, find fully convincing. The upshot is a necessary humility and an openness to the claims of the tradition - and the criticisms of those outside it - that, in our view, belong to the essence of what is traditionally known as a life of faith."

Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith, 134-135


Monday, July 16, 2012

Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp on the Case for Christian Belief

"We do agree with many commentators today that it is difficult to make the case for Christian belief - difficult, that is, to make a case that is, or even should be, convincing to those who do not already participate in the experience of Christian faith and practice. What separates us from Christian agnostics is, first, our unwillingness to decide in advance that no progress in assessing Christian claims can be made and, second, our conviction that pursuing the question of what is really the case, what is really true, is not just an intellectual game but an urgent religious responsibility. In fact, it is a responsibility precisely for those who find themselves, as we do, continually drawn to what it is least misleading, perhaps, to call simply 'the gospel.' Again, that conviction separates us just as much from the Christian fideist - the person who thinks we should just take everything 'on faith' - as it does from the Christian agnostic. As different as they may be in other respects, the fideists and the agnostic are equally 'dogmatic' to the extent that they are both closed to the possibility of ever making progress in finding out whether Christian claims may actually be true, and both unwilling to let the content of their beliefs be affected by new ideas or discoveries." 

Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith 19-20

Monday, July 09, 2012

Myths about U.S. Immigration, (and more)

This quarters NCM Magazine is dedicated to immigration, taking its ques from that oft (and rightly so) quoted passage, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Among many challenging articles was one by Rev. Gabriel Salguero. He and his wife are co-pastors of Lamb's Manhattan Church of the Nazarene. Here are several highlights:

- "Too many pastors and laity alike go to their favorite politician or media pundit instead of scripture to form opinions on justice in immigration."

- "We have to ask then, how do we balance respect for the government's rule of law with welcoming the stranger? In other words, how do we live out Romans 13:1 - 'Let every person be subject to the governing authorities' - with Matthew 25:35 - 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me'? As a congregation, we are learning to let both of these Scripture passages disciple us."

- "At our church, we have undocumented immigrants among us. We believe membership in the body of Christ is not a matter of where you are born, what language you speak, or what your citizenship is. It is about faith in Christ."

- "Why do we do this? It is because these men, women, and children are our brothers and sisters. In fact, many of them have U.S.-born children. Those children are our children, and we are working to keep families together. It is one of the reasons we want humane and comprehensive immigration reform."

Attached to the article are four myths about U.S. immigration that I also think are worth highlighting as well:

- Myth #1: Immigrants don't pay taxes.
Reality: Most immigrants - including many who are undocumented - pay income, property, sales, and payroll taxes.

- Myth #2: Immigrants come to the United States to take welfare.
Reality: Most often, immigrants come to the United States to work, reunite with family members, or escape violence. the amount of taxes immigrants pay overall actually far outweights their use of public benefits.

- Myth #3: Immigrants send all their money back to their home countries.
Reality: Though some immigrants send remittances to family members in their home countries, the amount immigrants overall contribute to local economies through consumer spending and paying business and personal taxes dramatically exceeds the amount sent elsewhere.

- Myth #4: Most immigrants cross the border illegally.
Reality: About two-thirds of immigrants are in the U.S legally with visas or as naturalized citizens. Of the third who are undocumented, 40 percent originally came legally but overstayed their temporary visas.

The magazine also offers a link to a website where people can go to learn how to advocate for immigrants in their community - Actually, it's must more than that. It's not just for those who are in favor of advocacy. It's a great resource for opening up a broader conversation with those who might not agree with some of things that I have highlighted above.

As an Associate Pastor on staff at a church in a neighborhood where immigration is a central issue, this magazine has been extremely insightful, provoking me to prayer and action.

Thanks, NCM!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Too Many Trilogies?

I just found out that The Amazing Spider Man is going to be made into a trilogy. This doesn't surprise me. The self-contained, one time only movie is a relic. If a trilogy isn't a part of the original conversation then you should be worried as a filmmaker. True, the stand-alones are still made, but they mostly fall into either one of two categories: suck or success. If there was a third category it be called forgotten. Especially with comic movies, it's trilogy of bust.

I'm not a hater of this idea. I like a good trilogy as much as the next person, I just want to see them done well. What I really like, though, is a good story, which is why Star Wars (the original three), The Lord of the Rings, The Bourne films, Harry Potter, and The Millenium Trilogy are good trilogies to me. They are good stories. Each film builds into the next as a large overarching story unfolds. The Lord of the Rings, I think, did it best. It's like watching a fourteen hour long movie and yet you can do it in three parts. You get enough resolution along the way so that you don't feel like you have to watch them all in a row every time, but you get really to know the characters, watch them develop, and live long enough in another world that you feel at home there. That's pretty powerful. There's a whole thing out there about how "we" as a culture have lost our ability to stay focused on one thing for a long time, thus, we don't write long novels or sit down to long films, generally speaking. Two hundred pages or ninety minutes is about all we got. Of course, Twilight and Harry Potter are the exceptions, or romance novels, but then there's a whole other thing going on there.

A trilogy, to me, is a long story. Most so-called trilogies are really just collections of films revolving around the same character without an overarching storyline. That's fine. I like those too: Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Indiana Jones, Toy Story (yes, I don't think it's a trilogy), and Back to the Future. I suppose I want the distinction because I really like a good story and I don't want people to be confused or unaware that there is a difference. Stand-alone's are fine but putting three of them together and calling it a trilogy doesn't mean that it's one story. I think there is and I think film has the ability to help us see just what exactly is the power of a good story, one that sucks you in as it gives shape and form to a whole other reality. I'd actually like to see people sitting down to write more trilogies, an eight to nine hour imaginative saga. How awesome is it going to be when The Dark Tower series comes to film!

I'm sort of ranting, mostly at the how flippantly studios throw around the world trilogy simply because we think that makes it better. We have to be smarter as film-goers. If the first movie was decent but not great and there's a second one on the way, wait until it comes out at Redbox, or borrow it from a friend. All they want is our money and we get tricked into thinking that a trilogy means it's better, with question.

Someone could probably argue the other way about trilogy and that's fine. I mostly want to see people go all the way with trilogy. Leave us hanging a bit after the first and second films for the grand conclusion. It's better that way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Peace is a result not a goal"

"The first thing we need to recover is the knowledge that peace is a result not a goal. Peace is the result of years in a good relationship. Marriages shaped by love result in peace. Instead of focusing on having a good marriage, a husband and a wife who focus on loving one another will have a marriage of peace. Societies that are shaped by justice and love becomes societies marked by peace. Peace, then, should not be our goal; love is. Love is the hard gritty work; love is the way of the cross that produces peace. When we love, justice and peace bubble up as the results of love. People who want peace but who aren't willing to love will not find peace. People who love find peace, whether they think about it or not."

- Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 73

(image via

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two by Mumford and Sons: Come Thou Fount & Awake My Soul

Dang, I just love this. These guys are great and a new album is set for release in September. I dare you not to be utterly moved by the song in the second half of the second video. Between these two videos, this might be the best fifteen minutes of your week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Reading the Bible, and Some Resources

Every so often we do a series on the bible where we interact with questions about what the bible is, what it's for, how it's authoritative, and how to read it (hermeneutics).

In the last couple years I've been challenged by Alister McGrath's work on Christianity's Dangerous Idea, which was, essentially, to put the bible in the hands of the people, "that Christians have the right to interpret the bible for themselves," and the subsequent fallout/repercussions. As a Wesleyan, I try to never forget the beautiful tension that exists in the relationship between Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, which means that reading for ourselves never means that we read it by ourselves.

The thought I'm entertaining right now, to put it very, very simply, is this: It's not that I think everyone should be biblical scholars, but that our readings should be theologically faithful, which means that we need to become better readers and hearers of this story. It sounds circular but it's not. The point, of course, is not just to become better readers about Jesus. We read in order to become better followers of Jesus, which means that I take very seriously the practices that shape and form God's people, that make us into the kinds of people who actually follow Jesus. But one of those practices is reading the Scripture, so we have to talk about it.

In any case, I wanted to toss out two resources that I have found helpful when it comes to reading the bible. They are beginner's resource, for sure, but ones that I return to often when I want to gather up the whole story, as much as possible, in one gulp.

The first is a book by Craig Koester called A Beginner's Guide to Reading the Bible. He tries to be more comprehensive in scope, asking why we read the bible? What's in the bible? How was it composed? Who decided which books made the cut? How have people view the bible? Why so any translations? And why should I read the bible? It's a great little book to have your shelf to help you get and keep your bearings. My favorite part of this book is his summary of the Old Testament. He goes from the patriarchs, to the kings, to the prophets in about eleven pages. It's encyclopedic, but it's pretty imaginatively engaging.

The second book is by Lesslie Newbigin called A Walk Through the Bible. His is a narrative approach to the bible. He minimizes the complexity as much as possible in order to grasp the basic story of the bible, in seventy-nine pages I might add! You lose the encyclopedic and informative feel that you get from Koester's, but you gain a more succinct telling of the story from start to finish.  Plus, not only will you have a really good sense of the overarching story of God in the bible, you can read it in one sitting!

What am I missing? What else is out there like this?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Quote by Ray Bradbury on Writing

In honor of the art of writing and the joy of life, here is a swift kick in the pants by Ray Bradbury...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More like MacGyver...

For this week it's a marriage counseling session (I'm doing a wedding in August), preaching at the KCRM, and preaching at Redemption. In case you don't know, each of these things requires a certain amount of preparation.

It's likely that as I get older I will become more efficient in managing my time when it comes to these things, but at the moment (especially since I don't preach on a regular weekly basis) I just have to give myself over to them. Granted, I'm much better at time management when it comes to sermon prep than I used to be. There is a learning process. But sometimes it seems to take a while to get the creative juices flowing. As a rule, I try to write every day, but there is something intentional about a sermon that requires a little more focus and creativity, which can end up taking time.

Maybe I should become more like MacGyver, flexible, spontaneously creative, entrepreneurial, a clock-buster. Perhaps a sociopath, as suggested, but a nice sociopath. I wonder how many pastors are sociopaths? This might help me not to feel so overwhelmed by my to do list. After all, who else do you want to be like as pastor when you're boxed into a corner, ten seconds left on the clock? For sure, duct tape can fix marriages and sermons.

Carry on...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another from the Eugene...

I read Peteron's book, Pastor, in March 2011. There are few public figures who are able somehow to weave together an acute pastoral sensibility and keen cultural critique in a such beautiful way. Here's one from the book:

"I love being an American. I love this place in which I have been placed - it's language, its history, its energy. But I don't love 'the American way,' its culture and values. I don't love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed. I don't love the dehumanizing ways that turn men, woman, and children into impersonal roles and causes and statistics. I don't love the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even as enemies. The cultural conditions in which I am immersed require, at least for me, a kind of fierce vigilance to guard my vocation from these cultural pollutants so dangerously toxic to persons who want to follow Jesus in the way that he is Jesus. I wanted my life, both my personal and working life, to be shaped by God and the Scriptures and prayer."

- Eugene Peterson, Pastor, 4ff.

Eugene Peterson Interview

Watch for the early Chris Farley reference. Oh, and he also has some good stuff to say about pastoring.

(via Per-Crucem-ad-Lucem)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Of prayer and place, with Wendell Berry and Richard Rohr

Something seems to work between the two...

- "By interworking of chance and choice, I have happened to live nearly all of my life in a place I don't remember not knowing. Most of my forebears for the last two hundred years could have said the same thing. I was born to a people who knew this place intimately, and I grew up knowing it intimately. For a long time the intimacy was not very conscious, but I certainly did not grow up here thinking of the place as 'subject matter, I have never thought of it that way. I have not lived here, or worked with my neighbors or family, or listened to the storytellers and the remembers, in order to be a writer." - Wendell Berry, Imagination in Place, 1

- "To be contemplative, we have to have a slight distance from the world - we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for mediation, for prayer in what Jesus calls 'our private room.' However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same time, loving it, feeling its pains and its joys as our pains and our joys. So the fulcrum must be somehow be in the real world [sic]. True contemplation, all the great masters say, is really quite down to earth and practical, and does not require life in a monastery." - Richard Rohr, A Lever and Place to Stand, 1ff.

The problem with our standard of living...

We use too much. Wendell Berry says we've got to use less. And to be smarter about how we use.

Watch Wendell Berry on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Quote by Wendell Berry

"For many years, as a nation, we have asked our land only to produce, and we have asked our farmers only to produce. We have believed that this single economic standard not only guaranteed good performance but also preserved the ultimate truth and rightness of our aims. We have bought unconditionally the economists' line that competition and innovation would solve all problems, and that we would finally accomplish a technological end-run around biological reality and the human condition."

- Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food, 5

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Around the Horn ... in video

This weeks cyber round up is in video format. There's some funny, impressive, and freakishly amazing stuff out there!

- Neil Gaiman remembers Ray Bradbury. And reads a story he wrote for him on his 91 birthday.

- Iranian kid jams with his Grandpa (via Blaim it on the Voices).

- Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer dances (that's an understatement).

- Ever wonder what The Wire would be like as a musical???

- Norman Wirzba talks about farming, the church, and the problem of industry.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Saving the (Super)powers

I've been in the thick of Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament, but now I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In part three he spends several chapters talking about the various aspects of partnership with Yahweh: Israel as partner, the human person as partner, the nations as partner, and creation as partner. I found his consideration of the nations as partner to be really insightful and challenging, particularly the part where he talks about the superpowers of the Old Testament: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. While all four of these superpowers are easily villainized as those who must be defeated, we can't forget that each, in some way, was solicited by Yahweh to partner with Him in the redemption of His creation (see pages 502-518).

- Egypt, through Joseph, becomes a refuge during a great famine (Genesis)

- Asssyria is the "rod" of Yahweh's "anger" (Isaiah, 10:5) against the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel, as God commissions them to "take spoil and seize plunder" (Isaiah 10:6).

- Babylon, specifically Nebuchandnezzar, whom Yahweh calls "My servant" (Jeremiah 25:9), functions like Assyria except towards the rebellious southern kingdom, Judah.

- Persia, perhaps the least threatening of the four, is the means by which the people of God are able to "return" to Jerusalem, albeit still in service to Persia, in order to rebuild the temple.

In the end, however, these superpowers overreach, as they are wont to do, thus receiving from Yahweh the same judgement as Israel receives. 

So, two things:

1. I find interesting the way Brueggemann is able to situate the chosenness of Israel within this geopolitical scope, namely that the centrality of Israel needs to be sharply qualified. Yahweh won't be monopolized by Israel's concerns as such, regardless of the covenant. Israel is always a small fish in a big pond with a cosmic implications. The cosmic implications of salvation are always in God's purview, regardless of what Israel says and does, and especially if Yahweh must move outside the bonds of covenant for the life of the world. That's a wild and surprising God, right there!

2. I find his argument for the salvation of the superpowers to be really, really compelling. His section on Nebuchadnezzar is great, and at points downright moving in a poetic sense, the way preaching is supposed to be! The story of Nebuchadnezzar is like the story of Jonah in a sense. What if your preaching actually works and people return to God? This is the challenge of "love your enemies" because there may come a point one day where you will fellowship with them at a common table. If you haven't already been practicing forgiveness and reconciliation, what makes you think you will all of a sudden be able to share in the Lord's Supper with them? This is the public challenge of the Amish community shooting back in 2006. It all comes down to hope. Do we hope our enemies will be saved or destroyed?