The Weekend Wanderer: 8 April 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.

Eugene_Delacroix_Lagonie_dans_le_jardin_1861_Rijksmuseum_Amsterdam-1536x768“The Transfiguration in the Garden of Gethsemane” – Jason Micheli at Mockingbird: “Every year during Passover week, Jerusalem would be filled with approximately 200,000 Jewish pilgrims. Nearly all of them, like Jesus and his friends and family, would’ve been poor. Throughout that holy week, these hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would gather at table and temple and they would remember. They would remember how they’d once suffered bondage under another empire, and how God had heard their outrage and sent someone to save them. They would remember how God had promised them, ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.’ Always. They would remember how with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God had delivered them from a Caesar called Pharaoh. Passover was a political powder keg, so every year Pontius Pilate would do his damnedest to keep Passover in the past tense. At the beginning of Passover week, Pilate would journey from his seaport home in the west to Jerusalem, escorted by a military triumph, a shock-and-awe storm-trooping parade of horses and chariots and troops armed to the teeth and prisoners bound hand and foot. All of it led by imperial banners that dared as much as declared ‘Caesar is Lord.’ So when Jesus, at the beginning of that same week, rides into Jerusalem from the opposite direction there could be no mistaking what to expect next. Deliverance from enemies. Defeat of them. Freedom. Exodus from slavery. How could there be any mistaking, any confusing, when Jesus chooses to ride into town — on a donkey, exactly the way the prophet Zechariah had foretold that Israel’s King would return to them. Triumphant and victorious, just before he crushes their enemies. There could be no mistaking what to expect next. That’s why they shout ‘Hosanna! Save us!’ and wave palm branches as they do every year for the festival of Sukkot, another holy day in the fall when they recalled their exodus from Egypt into the wilderness and prayed for God to send them a Messiah. The only reason to shout Hosanna during Passover instead of Sukkot is if you believed that the Messiah for whom you have prayed has arrived. There could no mistaking what to expect next.”

ritual“I Met God on the Mountaintop of Ritual: How liturgy can lead to an encounter with the Lord.” – Esau McCaulley in Christianity Today: “As someone who came from outside the liturgical expressions of Christianity, I had a certain suspicion of the whole enterprise. I thought the liturgical tradition, with its vestments, rituals, rules, and customs, was the very thing Jesus had come to destroy. I intuited that what God wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He owned the cattle on a thousand hills; he didn’t need our formalized prayers and spiritual sacrifices. The heroes in my mind were characters like David, who danced informally before God (2 Sam. 6:14), and the prophets, whose ministry was led from start to finish by the Spirit (1 Kings 18:12). The liturgical life seemed, from the outside, to stifle the Spirit. In my developing religious sensibilities, inherited from the Free Church Protestantism of my youth, the legalists Paul battled in Galatia had morphed into modern ritualistic Christians. Jesus wanted prayers from my heart that revealed my own wrestling with God, not the repeated words of those long dead. God was, of course, on the side of the informalists and against the formalists. In the language that became omnipresent during my college years, it wasn’t about religion but relationship. Religion was shorthand for any ritual activity I was uncomfortable with. Here, I want to approach the liturgy from a different perspective. I do not wish to engage in debates about particular texts of the Bible. I want instead to zoom out and look at the nature of the Old and New Testaments themselves. I want to press in on the method by which God forms a people. When God revealed himself to a spiritually malnourished group who needed to be taught the things required for holiness, what did he do? How did God do it? He gave his people rituals. He gave them feasts tied to certain parts of the year and a system of sacrifice to teach his ways to coming generations.”

1000“Pastors: Palm Sunday a balm after Nashville school shooting” – Holly Meyer in The Associated Press: “It’s Palm Sunday, and across the greater Nashville, Tennessee, region, many Christians headed to worship services grief-stricken and hurting for the lives stolen too soon in The Covenant School shooting. Their heartsick pastors sought to bring comfort to those seeking answers to unanswerable questions after a heavily armed assailant turned a regular day into a horror story for the private, Christian grade school in Nashville. ‘If a week like this teaches me anything, it’s that today is the day to believe,’ senior pastor Scott Sauls told his congregation at Christ Presbyterian Church which is hosting funerals for three of the six victims.. ‘None of us is guaranteed tomorrow, let alone the next hour,’ Sauls said. ‘The only comfort that exists in life and in death, for body and soul, is that we belong to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.’ The promise of the gospel doesn’t diminish the pain and the grief, Sauls added. And he acknowledged that scripture is limited when it comes to answering the question of why: ‘Why this child? Why this beloved educator and wife and mother and grandmother?’ On the first Sunday after the attack — and the start of Christianity’s most sobering and sacred week — the tragedy could not and should not be avoided, said Pastor George Grant, a local Presbyterian leader with ties to the school and the adjoining Covenant Presbyterian Church.”

God Speaks Through Wombs“God Speaks Through Wombs: Drew Jackson on Poems Birthed Out of the Gospel of Luke”Christians for Social Action interviews Drew Jackson on his recent book of poetry: We spoke with pastor and poet Drew Jackson about his latest work, God Speaks Through Wombs, a collection of poems that traverses the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Drew is the founding pastor of Hope East Village in New York City and writes poetry at the intersection of justice, peace, and contemplation, with a passion to contribute toward a more just and whole world. Listen to Drew read one of his poems.

Why did you title this “God Speaks Through Wombs?”

The title comes from one of the poems in the book, which is a reflection on the story of Elizabeth hearing the news that she will be giving birth to John the Baptist. Elizabeth was a person who, because of her barrenness and her old age, would have been marginalized in that society, but God chooses to break into history, to speak and to act, through her. As I say in the poem: ‘In the days of empires / and puppet regimes / God speaks.'”…This is a theme that Luke carries throughout his Gospel—God’s choice to speak, move, and act in history through those that society has marginalized and oppressed.”

re-thinking-success-tc“Re-thinking Success” – Ruth Haley Barton in Beyond Words: “Recently I read a letter that I have not been able to get off my mind.  It was written by a pastor to the editor of a Christian magazine and it said, ‘I retired a year ago from one of several consecutive positions as associate or senior pastor.  I retired not because I didn’t love the people, the missions, the act of preaching and the way weekly preaching shaped me…No, it was because I was never able to navigate through the expectations of my church, both at the local level and from the hierarchy, that I would attract more and more money and bring in more and more members. By the time I decided to retire, these two components of ministry became the only validations of effective ministry in my denomination.  Conducting ministry by such a method was mind-numbing and soul-draining.  I tried my best, and in the end I left.  Today I guest preach and lead retreats only occasionally.  Mostly I spend my time in utter joy, compiling my journal entries and letters from my first year as a solo pastor in England.  At long last, I have time to reflect.’ This pastor is not alone in the experience of being driven from ministry by false measures of success. In Pastors at Greater Risk, H.B. London Jr. and Dr. Neil B. Wiseman state that 45.5% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. It would be naive to think that this large percentage does not include some of the brightest, most inspiring pastors in the country. Not surprisingly, several of the top reasons pastors leave ministry too soon have to do with discouragement and a sense of failure around how they measure success, how they compare themselves to other pastors and ministries, and how those around them measure success and critique them on that basis.” 

19374db1-d46f-47c2-9d31-58bb7e9a03d9_875x1024“It’s unloving to quickly restore fallen pastors” – Katelyn Beaty in The Beaty Beat: “On September 27, 2022, Religion & Politics published an essay of mine on why evangelicals love redemption stories. Reflecting on fallen Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz, I wrote:

As for Carl and Laura Lentz, I’m not a betting woman, and I can’t speak to their personal lives or transformation off the screen and the stage. But I’ve seen enough to wager that Carl will announce a return to church ministry within six months, and that he and/or Laura will announce a book detailing their experience within a year.

Then, on March 28, 2023 — six months to the day — Religion News Service reported that Lentz would be joining the staff of Transformation, a nondenominational megachurch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, led by pastor Michael Todd. Maybe I need to spend a weekend in Atlantic City. Gambling jokes aside (I have been to Las Vegas once, with my parents; we spent a lot of time birdwatching in the desert), it brings me no joy to see disgraced pastors return to church ministry, when church ministry was the context that likely spurred their downfall in the first place. When people of faith raise concerns about disqualified leaders returning to ministry, it can seem mean-spirited or hard of heart. Christians, of all people, are to be gracious and quick to forgive, since we believe God has extended immeasurable grace to us in the person of Christ. Everyone deserves a second chance. No one is the sum of their darkest moments. God is in the business of redeeming lives. And so on. But redemption is not the same as restoration to church leadership. Personal transformation is different from public responsibility. And it’s not loving to quickly* bring a fellow Christian back to the spotlight, when it’s the spotlight that quickened their fall from grace in the first place. (*I’ll get to questions of timing shortly.)”

Music: Puchi Colón, “Everlasting God (Eterno Dios)” (Latin Arrangement)

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