“The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of 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.
“Eastern wisdom for western Christians” – Timothy Jones interview Rowan Williams in The Christian Century: “Rowan Williams presided over the Anglican Communion as archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, during fractious, fracturing times. Now retired as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, he recently moved home to Wales, where he engages his many commitments in the wider church at a lower profile, though his work as an academic, a prolific author and lecturer, and a well-regarded poet continues unabated. Like Augustine, one figure to whom his mind has continually returned, Williams is known for the questing spiritual fervor that undergirds and deepens his intellectual prowess. In his latest theological work, Looking East in Winter, the quintessentially Anglican leader looks with respect and even longing toward the riches of another vast Christian stream. He explores the rich resources for spiritual practice from the Eastern churches, the Jesus prayer, and Orthodoxy’s insights on the Trinity and human identity, along with social and liturgical applications. In many ways the book is a culmination: Williams’s graduate school days left him fascinated with Eastern Orthodoxy, and his doctoral thesis mined Vladimir Lossky’s theology. He shares the riches of decades of reflection with a Western Christendom that seems plagued by anxiety and angst over its calling.”
“Our Pulpits Are Full of Empty Preachers” – Kyle Rohane in Christianity Today: Seven years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Deming, New Mexico, had to replace the rope hanging from its bell tower. After 75 years of regular use, it had finally unraveled. The bell has been ringing since the Pueblo mission-style building was constructed in 1941, and the church itself dates back further, to the turn of the 20th century. Not much else has endured like the bell. Today, the church building’s original adobe walls are covered by white paneling and a powder-blue roof. Out front, the steps leading to the entrance have been replaced with a wheelchair ramp. There was a time when the congregation nearly filled its 200-person sanctuary. On a recent Sunday, five people showed up. ‘That’s the lowest it’s ever been,’ Liv Johnson said. In the three decades since she started as secretary at First Presbyterian, Johnson has watched a slow trickle of people leave. ‘When I first came here, the average attendance—because I had to do that report—was 82,’ she said. ‘I remember having 35 kids for Sunday school, and now we have none.’ Still, Johnson doesn’t despair. She believes strong, stable leadership could turn things around. But recently, consistent leadership has been difficult to come by.”
“Who is Jesus? How Pop Culture and Makers of ‘The Chosen’ Help Define His Life Amid Few Biographical Details” – Julia Duin in Newsweek: “Who is Jesus Christ? This weekend, his 2.3 billion followers will observe Easter, the Christian high holy day marking his resurrection from death. Every decade or so, a cottage industry of scholars, filmmakers, authors and clergy plow through the sparse biographical details of the man who claimed to be God in human form to discern how he lived his life. More recently, artists, not theologians, have led the way, starting with Akiane Kramarik, a a homeschooled child from Mount Morris, Ill., whose striking head shots of a bearded, tousel-haired Jesus came from visions starting at the age of 4. By the age of 9, she was appearing on Oprah Winfrey. Film efforts range from the gritty ‘Last Days in the Desert’ (2015) with Ewan McGregor portraying an emaciated and doubting Jesus enduring 40 days in the wilderness to the Lumo Project’s ‘The Gospel Collection’ (2014-2018), a word-for-word presentation shot in Morocco and featuring British-Tamil actor Selva Rasalingam. Cultural authenticity is key; Rasalingam looks convincingly Jewish and the actors – taking a cue from Mel Gibson’s 2004 ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – spoke in Aramaic with subtitles. The most recent pop religious portrayal is The Chosen, a seven-season TV production that traces the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Some $45 million – mostly through crowdfunding – has been poured into the first two seasons of the production. A third will premiere in the fall. Hopes are to raise $100 million to eventually reach an audience of 1 billion. The show is closing in on 390 million views now.”
“Something Happened By Us: A Demonology” – Alan Jacobs in The New Atlantis: “On January 6, 2021, Samuel Camargo posted a video on Instagram showing him struggling to break through a police barrier to get into the U.S. Capitol building. The next day he wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m sorry to all the people I’ve disappointed as this is not who I am nor what I stand for.’ A month after the riot, Jacob Chansley, the man widely known as the QAnon Shaman, wrote a letter from his jail cell in Virginia asking Americans to ‘be patient with me and other peaceful people who, like me, are having a very difficult time piecing together all that happened to us, around us, and by us.’ ‘This is not who I am,’ ‘all that happened … by us’ — it is commonplace to hear such statements as mere evasions of responsibility, and often they are. But what if they reflect genuine puzzlement, genuine difficulty understanding one’s behavior or even seeing it as one’s own, a genuine feeling of being driven, compelled, by something other than one’s own will?”
“Franz Liszt: Superstar, Sinner, Saint – For years Franz Liszt had been two men: a hedonist, scoundrel, and homewrecker, but also a generous soul who pined for a life of peace and prayer.” – Nathan Beacom in Plough Quarterly: “For a long time, Franz Liszt had been two men. In his days as a touring pianist, he was a hedonist, a scoundrel, and a homewrecker; he was also a generous soul who always pined for a life of peace and prayer. Now, on this sacred hill, things were simplifying themselves. For the first time, he was becoming one person. Underneath his years of superficial celebrity lay a desire still deeper than that which drove him after fame. ‘Holiness’ is a stuffy word, easily misused by the sentimental, but in its oldest origins, it simply means ‘wholeness.’ That is what Liszt was really searching for, and what he came nearer to finding in these, his later years. In his life and in his music, we can see that universal human drama between selfishness and salvation. In it, we can learn something about wholeness, too.”
“Nature does not care: Too many nature writers descend into poetic self-absorption instead of the sharp-eyed realism the natural world deserves” – Richard Smyth in Aeon: “I worry, sometimes, that knowledge is falling out of fashion – that in the field in which I work, nature writing, the multitudinous nonfictions of the more-than-human world, facts have been devalued; knowing stuff is no longer enough. Marc Hamer, a British writer on nature and gardening, said in his book Seed to Dust (2021) that he likes his head ‘to be clean and empty’ – as if, the naturalist Tim Dee remarked in his review for The Guardian, ‘it were a spiritual goal to be de-cluttered of facts’. ‘It is only humans that define and name things,’ Hamer declares, strangely. ‘Nature doesn’t waste its time on that.’ Jini Reddy, who explored the British landscape in her book Wanderland(2020), wondered which was worse, ‘needing to know the name of every beautiful flower you come across or needing to photograph it’. Increasingly, I get the impression that dusty, tweedy, moth-eaten old knowledge has had its day. Sure, it has its uses – of course, we wouldn’t want to do away with it altogether. But beside emotional truth, beside the human perspectives of the author, it seems dispensable. Am I right to worry? I know for a fact, after all, that there are still places where knowledge for its own sake is – up to a point – prized, even rewarded.”
Music: John Michael Talbot, “Jesus Prayer,” from Master Collection: The Quiet Side