“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.
“Ancient Mosaics Unearthed at the Tomb of St. Nicholas, Inspiration of Santa Claus” – Francesca Aton in ARTNews: “The original stone mosaic floors were St. Nicholas—the inspiration for Santa Claus—would have stood during mass and where his tomb is located within the building, have been uncovered by archaeologists excavating the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre, Turkey. Since 1982, the church has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To access the remains of the third-century basilica below, an upper layer of Byzantine-era mosaic tiles were removed. After the older church was flooded due to rising sea levels, the current structure was erected over top its remains in the Middle Ages.’We are talking about the floor on which St. Nicholas’s feet stepped. This is an extremely important discovery, the first find from that period,’ Osman Eravşar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, told Demirören News Agency. Excavations at the church have been ongoing since 2017, when experts identified the seventh- or eighth-century church as St. Nicholas’s final resting place. While electronically surveying the space, experts discovered empty spaces between the floor and the foundations. The site was originally intended to be St. Nicholas’s final resting place, but Crusaders transported his bones to Bari, Italy in 1087. During the removal, they moved the empty burial chamber to a niche on the side of the chapel. ‘His sarcophagus must have been placed in a special place and that is the part with three apses covered with a dome. There we have discovered the fresco depicting the scene where Jesus is holding the Bible in his left hand and making the sign of blessing with his right hand,’ Eravşar told the Daily Sabah.”
“Why I’m Giving to This Environmental Group” – Tish Harrison Warren in The New York Times: “During this season of Advent, the book of Isaiah is often read aloud in Christian liturgical churches week after week. Isaiah describes not only a spiritual salvation, where people are reconciled to God, but a renewal of the whole Earth — a ‘new heavens and new Earth.’ Isaiah envisions a planet teeming with vitality. In it, humans and animals and even predator and prey dwell in harmony with one another: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). The Anglican biblical scholar Richard Bauckham calls the visions of Isaiah an ‘ecotopia.’ Christians understand Isaiah’s prophecies as culminating in Jesus’ return, and that this vision of a restored heaven and Earth is the ultimate destiny of the universe. Still, some Christian traditions, particularly white evangelicalism, emphasize a more individualistic view of God’s work of redemption. In the evangelical church I grew up in, salvation was primarily seen as an internal, spiritual experience — getting ‘saved’ or being ‘born again’ — so that we could go to heaven when we die. In the readings of Advent, however, Isaiah shows how incomplete this view is. God’s intention, Isaiah seems to say, is not evacuation from Earth to some far away afterlife but the healing and restoration of all things, even the material world of oak trees and orangutans, jellyfish and jalapeños, mountain laurels and desert willows.”
“Jesus Creed Books of the Year” – Scot McKnight at The Jesus Creed Blog: “Somewhere between 200-300 books cross my desks per year. From these I select books that strike a chord in me or must be read because of my writing or teaching. Each year then I select one as the Jesus Creed (or Tov Unleashed) Book of the Year. But I also select some great reads that vied for the top spot. This year’s selection had great competition, but in the end this year’s selection was clearly my favorite. One reason I know this is because Kris said, ‘You didn’t stop talking about it.’ So here it is: Lisa Weaver Swartz, Stained Glass Ceilings: How Evangelicals Do Gender and Practice Power. Some of us know Southern seminary is complementarian through and through, and some of us know Asbury seminary is egalitarian. But Lisa complicates what we know by unraveling the formative stories at work on each campus. Her observations, even if a bit discomforting for some on each campus, are always charitable, fair-minded, and evidence-shaped.”
“Jordan unveils $100 million master plan for the second millennium of Jesus’ baptism” – Daoud Kuttab at Religion News Service: ” Jordan has launched a $100 million master plan aimed at attracting 1 million Christian pilgrims to celebrations of the second millennium of the baptism of Jesus in 2030. The ambitious plan was unveiled by a not-for-profit foundation created by the Jordanian government to develop the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” area, on the east bank of the Jordan River, long venerated as the place of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Archaeological discoveries of an ancient monastery at Al-Maghtas, Jordan, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Samir Murad, chair of the new foundation, told Religion News Service that his group plans to provide Christians access to visit and worship at the site while respecting its integrity. ‘We wanted to provide pilgrims a chance to be able to spend quality time at the location of the baptism while respecting its spirituality and the UNESCO World Heritage Site conditions,’ said Murad. Murad’s team rejected proposals for five-star hotels and fine dining and chose instead down-to-earth accommodations. ‘We decided on a biblical village theme that attempts to re-create a 2,000-year-old experience,’ said Murad.”
“Revival: Ways and Means” – Tim Keller at his blog from 2011: “How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a ‘science.’ Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today. There has been a withering critique of revivalism going on now for twenty years within evangelical circles. Most of it is fair, but it often goes beyond the criticism of the technique-driven revivalism of Finney to insist that even Edwards and the Puritans were badly mistaken about how people should embrace and grow in Christ. In this limited space I can’t respond to that here other than to say I think that goes way too far. However, this critique trend explains why there is so much less enthusiasm for revival than when I was a young minister. It also explains why someone like D.M. Lloyd-Jones was so loathe to say that there was anything that we can do to bring about revivals (other than pray.) He knew that Finney-esque revivalism led to many spiritual pathologies. Nevertheless, I think we can carefully talk about some factors that, when present, often become associated with revival by God’s blessing.”
“Palestinian Christians Can’t Avoid Mixing Politics With Christmas” – Judy Lash Balint in Israel Today: “On the surface, Christmas preparations are back with a vengeance in the Bethlehem area after two bleak pandemic years. In Beit Sahour, a small town that borders Bethlehem, where Christians believe the angels announced the birth of Jesus, Christmas bling adorns almost every business. Tour groups file in and out of the grounds of the Shepherd’s Field Chapel and the public Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the main square is a lively, well-attended extravaganza. But the Christians who live in the Bethlehem area under Palestine Authority (PA) rule and on the wrong side of the security barrier live complicated lives. Many of them are eager to explain their concerns at the one time of the year when the attention of the world is focused on their hilly terrain six miles south of Jerusalem. Samir Qumsieh, 74, is a well-known community leader who runs Al Mahd Nativity TV, the only Christian TV station in the Palestinian territories. In 2010, his station was closed down by the PA but subsequently allowed to reopen. In 2006, he complained of death threats and intimidation and was on the receiving end of Molotov cocktails thrown at his home. Today Qumsieh warns visiting journalists not to misquote him, since ‘it could be life-threatening.’ When young Muslims attacked a church in the town two months ago, Qumsieh says, ‘Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] sent someone and they solved it.'”
Music: Georg Friedrich Händel, “Glory to God,” from Messiah as performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.