The Weekend Wanderer: 3 June 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.

134768“A Tale of Two New York City Pastors” – Kara Bettis Carvalho in Christianity Today: “On a sunny March afternoon in 2014, I found myself jumping on the L train from Manhattan to Williamsburg to interview a young, urban pastor named Carl Lentz in his luxury waterfront apartment. A trendy evangelical magazine wanted me to profile him. With its nightclub venues and award-winning worship music, his Hillsong church was attracting thousands of diverse young people from around New York City. Lentz is now featured in an FX documentary, The Secrets of Hillsong, which examines his string of affairs and the embattled church he left behind. The four-episode exposé features a solemn and emotional Lentz sharing that he was sexually abused as a child, admitting to moral failings (from sexual indiscretions to drug abuse), and describing the conflict among Hillsong leadership and staff. The documentary dropped the same day that another New York City pastor made headlines: Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s founder, Tim Keller, died of cancer on May 19. In the mid-2000s, both Redeemer and Hillsong drew flocks of spiritually curious New Yorkers, and both brought in around 5,000 attendees weekly across several services. For two years during college, I attended both churches simultaneously. After growing up as a homeschooled pastor’s kid in New England, I moved to New York City for undergrad. But it wasn’t just the star-studded Manhattan sidewalks that grabbed my attention; it was also the churches led by rapidly rising evangelical stars, including Keller and Lentz.”

webRNS-Jemar-Tisby1“How evangelical Christian writer Jemar Tisby became a radioactive symbol of ‘wokeness'” – Bob Smietana in Religion News Service: “Over the past decade, Jemar Tisby’s life has largely been shaped by two forces: the Bible, and the deaths of young Black men, often at the hands of law enforcement. About a decade ago, Tisby, then a seminary student in Jackson, Mississippi, helped start a new group called the Reformed African American Network — an offshoot of the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement that had spread like wildfire among evangelical Christians in the first decade of the 21st century. The group hoped to write about racial reconciliation from the viewpoint of Reformed theology, the ideas most closely associated with the ideas of John Calvin and popularized at the time by preachers and authors such as John Piper. But amid this resurgence of Reformed thought, there were few resources to be had on race issues. Then, in 2012 in Florida, Trayvon Martin, a Black teen, was killed by the neighborhood watch coordinator of a gated community. All of a sudden, people in the movement were listening. At the time, Tisby said in an interview, he and others raised their hands and said they had something to offer. The mostly white leaders of the Reformed movement, he said, welcomed them. ‘I believed them,’ he said. ‘I thought, we are here, they must want us here.’ Over the next few years, Tisby, a former pastor turned history professor, became a leading voice on race among evangelicals through his writing and as co-host of ‘Pass the Mic,’ a popular podcast.”

alex-gruber-j7kpHJRzHxE-unsplash.jpg“To Labour is to Love: Dorothy L. Sayers and putting first things first” – Jessica Hooten Wilson in Comment: “In January I agreed to participate in a gathering at the local brewery in my small town. Each Thursday, about a dozen people buy pints and sit around an armchair where a designated reader reads from the work of an author. I chose Dorothy L. Sayers’s famous essay “Why Work?” Sitting under the tall lamp, inhaling hops and keeping my coat on because of the cool night air, I began slowly. “Sayers wrote and delivered this as a lecture eighty years ago,” I said by way of context. A white-haired woman turned to her daughter and whispered, ‘I was in second grade that year.’  We sat and absorbed Sayers’s logic as it unspooled aloud, all of us transported to 1942 London. Sayers was writing in the middle of war when rationing and communal sacrifice were a necessity on the part of British citizens. She argued that their efforts at conservation and purposeful work should not be a temporary situation. Rather, the requirements of the crisis had provided them a pause in which to reconceive the default social system, which had led not only to waste in vast amounts but also to unsatisfying work. For Sayers, human beings are created to be workers, but that work should be profoundly fulfilling. She opposed the Fascist and Communist perspectives that each person does equal work without discerning personal calling, capabilities, or fulfillment. Instead, she argued, work should be ‘the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.’ Sayers saw all work as equal, from brewing to farming to retail service to art. What was needed was human beings who worked in order to live and who served the work placed before them.”

Seven Psalms - Paul Simon“Paul Simon Finds the Lord” – Timothy Larsen at Current: “Paul Simon, now 81, is from a generation that has always been strangely embarrassed by religion. Although his family belonged to a synagogue and he took instruction in Judaism and was bar mitzvahed, throughout his career Simon has been anxious to be seen as entirely secular. Just last year, when an interviewer tried to uncover Jewish influences in his songs, his instinct was to deny it. But the secular Simon has never made much sense. After all, his first hit, ‘The Sound of Silence,’ included the words, ‘And the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made . . . The words of the prophets are written on the subway wall.’ That success was reinforced by ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ which straight out of the gate was proclaiming: ‘Jesus loves you more than you will know . . . God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson / Heaven holds a place for those who pray.’ Then in 1973 came Simon’s Gospel song ‘Love Me Like a Rock,’ which is about a ‘consecrated boy’ who sings in the Sunday choir and resists the devil. Or, ‘Get Ready for Christmas Day’ (2010), a song that incorporates the voice of the Rev. J. M. Gates preaching. Not to mention album titles such as Graceland (1986) and The Rhythm of the Saints (1990). It’s harder than it looks to keep on the straight and narrow path of secularity. Making it yet more difficult, like the biblical Joseph, Simon is also a dreamer of dreams. On January 15, 2019—the anniversary of his father’s death—he had a dream in which he was informed, ‘You are writing, or are meant to write, a piece called Seven Psalms.'”

Makoto Fujimura“Mended to Make” – An Interview with Makoto Fujimura by Chris Carter in Ekstasis: “‘Silence’ is a word full of the connotations of absence; we hear it as a space to be filled. In situations defined by this perceived absence, we often deploy an army of words to subdue and order the void. The ironic thing, though, is that silence doesn’t fight back; it yields itself to our onslaught, making itself a willing victim of our perennial need to be heard. It stretches its arms out wide to receive all that pours from our tongues. Like the ocean, it’s expansive enough to receive all we throw into it.  Artist and author Makoto Fujimura, known also as Mako, is no stranger to the perplexing questions that silence raises, both in the concept itself, but also in the titular book he bases much of his theological pondering upon. In the novel Silence, Shūsaku Endō narrates a tale that stares into the sea of silence. The work is witness to a society in transition. In the early 1600s, Japan was saturated by a flood of Catholic missionaries. The situation changed drastically, however, in the 1620s when the shogun forbade the religion. Japanese believers were now forced to choose between an imported faith they cherished and the culture into which they were born.  Amid this persecution, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe sneak into Japan to bolster the believers’ flagging faith and to ascertain the whereabouts of Father Ferreira. During their mission, they meet a range of Christians, some strong and others bent and broken. As Father Rodrigues witnesses the brutal suppression of Japanese believers, his faith wavers under the reality that his Lord is silent amidst the pain. In the end, he chooses to apostatize in order to save the lives of many Japanese believers. When I first encountered this story, I was bewildered by Rodrigues’s choice. I strove to make sense of it, but, like the consuming sea Endō uses as a central motif, my conclusions were swallowed in the wake. ‘Endō is holding the fragments,’ Mako said, ‘and asking us the question, “What are you going to do with it? Are you going to judge it, fragment it further, or are you going to behold it and identify with the lines, the shapes, the sharp edges of these fragments?”‘”

MartinScorsese.jpg“Martin Scorsese Meets Pope Francis, Announces Film About Jesus – Report” – Nick Vivarelli in Variety: “Martin Scorsese is on a post-Cannes tour of Italy where over the weekend the director, known for having a religious bent, met with Pope Francis and announced that he will make a film about Jesus. ‘I have responded to the Pope’s appeal to artists in the only way I know how: by imagining and writing a screenplay for a film about Jesus,’ Scorsese announced on Saturday during a Rome conference at the Vatican, according to multiple reports. ‘And I’m about to start making it,’ the director added, suggesting that this could be his next film. Also on Saturday, before attending the conference – titled ‘The Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination’ – Scorsese and his wife Helen Morris met Pope Francis during a brief private audience at the Vatican.”

Music: Paul Simon, “Seven Psalms

Malcolm Guite, “Our Mother-tongue Is Love” – A Sonnet for Pentecost

Here is Malcolm Guite’s poem for Pentecost Sunday, “Our Mother-tongue is Love.” This sonnet is taken from Guite’s book Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year. Malcolm Guite is an Anglican priest, poet, and songwriter, who served as a Life Fellow and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge.

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.

You can hear a recording of Malcolm Guite reading this poem here.

The Holy Spirit is Like…: Three Images of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

In Scripture there are three commonly used images for the Holy Spirit. These symbols of the Holy Spirit’s presence help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.

image 2 - wind

The Holy Spirit is Like Wind
The first of these images is wind. We read about this on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

As the believers gathered together in obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, they first of all encounter the wind or breath of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word ruach is translated as breath, wind, or spirit. This is the word used in Genesis 1:2, where we read of God’s creative work in creation: “and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” Again, ruach is describes God’s intimate creation of humanity in Genesis 2:7 where we read: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life and the man became a living being.” The Holy Spirit is the basic breath of life – the spirit – that animates all creation and human beings.

Beyond bringing natural life, the Holy Spirit also brings spiritual life amidst humanity’s spiritual death caused by sin and ruptured relationship with God. In Ezekiel 37:6, Ezekiel the prophet preaches to a valley of dry bones, representing the spiritually dead people of God. It is God’s breath and wind that invigorates this mass of death into a living army of God. This image likely lingers behind Jesus’ memorable words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is like wind breathing divine life into us, spiritually restoring us with God through Jesus Christ.  In Acts 2, when the violent wind rushes into the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost day, we see that the Holy Spirit is coming in fulfillment of prophecy to breathe God’s divine life back into humanity.

image 3 - fire

The Holy Spirit is Like Fire
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized as fire. Return with me to Acts 2:

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)

Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of the presence of God. When Moses knelt at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Elijah battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), God’s powerful and holy presence is accompanied by fire. Fire is a symbol of God’s leading presence, such as when God led His people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Fire also conveys God’s purifying presence, best known through the prophet Isaiah’s striking vision of God where a fiery coal taken from the heavenly altar serves to purify Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6). Fire also symbolizes God’s passionate presence, seeking after people. After receiving a message from God, the prophet Jeremiah heard these words, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). Later on, Jeremiah exclaimed, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (20:9)

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples of Jesus in Acts 2 in the form of tongues of fire, He is kindling His presence within His people. That indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit brings divine guidance, holiness, and passion into the lives of Jesus’ disciples.

image 4 - water

The Holy Spirit is Like Water
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is symbolized as water. Earlier in the book of Acts, just before His ascension, Jesus says to His disciples:

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)

βαπτίζω (baptizo) means literally to immerse, and so Jesus is telling His followers that they will be washed or submerged in the Holy Spirit just as they would be with water in baptism.  The Apostle Peter echoes this later, after the Pentecost arrival of the Holy Spirit, when he preaches with reference to the words of the prophet Joel, saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).

The Holy Spirit is like water poured into our lives from God. This reminds us of the Genesis account of Creation where the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters of the cosmos that were still formless and void. The primordial deep was met with God’s Spirit to bring life in beauty, form, and ongoing creativity.

This image of the Holy Spirit as water may also call to mind two episodes from Jesus’ life and ministry. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman by the well in John 4. Moving from the earthly waters of Jacob’s well, Jesus says:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The second episode occurs when Jesus is at a great Jewish festival, the feast of tabernacles, in John 7. Speaking in the midst of a crowd, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John the Evangelist follows Jesus’ words immediately with this explanatory statement: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive” (John 7:37b-39). The Holy Spirit is like water that brings life to our souls and cleanses our dry and thirsty world.

These three images – wind, fire, water – help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. If the church wants to live and thrive, we must seek to live by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into us, who sets us ablaze with God’s power, and revives us with waters of life.

To Be Set on Fire :: Makoto Fujimura, “Pentecost”

image 3 - Pentecost.jpg
Makoto Fujimura, Pentecost, Mineral Pigments and Gold on Kumohada over Board; 2008.

What must the early disciples have been holding in their hearts and minds in those days after Jesus’ ascended? His final words to them were drenched with weighty anticipation: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They knew it would be some gift of His Spirit coming on them with power for witness (Acts 1:8), but when or how it would happen or what exactly would happen were undefined. And so, they waited in worship and prayer until the festival of Pentecost arrived. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar focused on thanking God for the firstfruits of the harvest, and later for the giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai. But now there was something new happening, as the fires of Sinai touched earth, and the ingathering of God’s kingdom came. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4). The early gathering of ordinary people was transformed by God’s indwelling presence. Contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura developed a series of liturgical paintings for a local congregation in Princeton, NJ, through paired diptychs: Advent/PentecostEpiphany/EasterLent/Good Friday and two Ordinary Time paintings. Fujimura’s unique Nihonga-influenced style brings together rich colors and radiant gold within this painting. Amidst ordinary worship, this congregation, and all who view it, are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

A Prayer of Christina Rosetti for Pentecost


O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross

By Christina Rosetti, 19th century poet.