The Weekend Wanderer: 15 December 2018

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.

85517“When Gospel Music Sparked a ‘Worship War'” – I began my calling into vocational ministry as a music director at a church after serving as a worship leader in various settings. Music is always divisive because it ties into personal tastes, cultural perspectives, and communicates things to people beyond just the sounds and words. Kathryn Kemp writes about how the Great Migration in the early 20th century impacted the life of African American churches and sparked a ‘worship war’ of sorts during that time. This is fascinating reading for the influence that gospel music had at that time and into the church today.

 

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image“How Facebook Deforms Us” – I gave up Facebook over two years ago and have never wanted to go back. What I realized is that it was subtly shaping me and others into the sort of person that I did not want to be. L. M. Sacasas gets to this in his astute review of Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s new book, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Sacasas’ thoughtful engagement with Vaidhyanathan, as well as other notable authors, provides a meaningful essay on the challenges we all face with a system of social media over which we exert limited control while it simultaneously exerts control over us.

 

image04newamericans“CIVA December Featured Artist” – The featured artist for Christians in Visual Arts (CIVA) in December is Asher Imtiaz, a portrait and documentary photographer from Pakistan currently working in the US (and a member of the church I pastor, Eastbrook Church). Describing his work, Imtiaz writes, “I believe the human face is the greatest of landscapes to capture.” Click here see more of his photography and to read about his work at the CIVA website. You could also visit his personal website here.

 

pew-846021_640“Why Evangelicals Should Care More About Ecclesiology” – Someone shared this article from a few years back with me, and my wife, Kelly, and I have been talking about it ever since. Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary, suggests that one of the significant factors in the crisis of moral leadership in the evangelical church today is a failure of institutional accountability. This is particularly a problem where there are not clear lines of authority within denominational structures or episcopal layers of authority. Warren’s argument is important to her out, even if there are similar issues with failure in moral authority in church contexts with institutional accountability (e.g., Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal). The fundamental dearth of ecclesiological thinking in evangelicalism is the heart of the issue, it seems to me.

 

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“People of African descent face ‘dire picture’ of racism in EU” – “Almost a third of people of African descent polled in a new EU survey say they have experienced racial harassment in the last five years, a report that claims racial discrimination is ‘commonplace’ across 12 European countries reveals. People of African descent face ‘a dire picture’ of discrimination in housing, the workplace and everyday life, the survey of 5,803 people by the European Union’s fundamental rights agency states.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.53.15 AM“Stephen Colbert’s conversion from atheism back to Catholicism” – Late Night television host and comedian, Stephen Colbert, talks with Father James Martin about his return to Catholicism from atheism, which was sparked by having someone hand him a pocket New Testament on the wintry streets of Chicago at an anxious season in his life.

 

higgins-inklings-243x300.jpg“An Inherently Meaningful Cosmos” – For those who follow the Oxford scholarly group knowns as the Inklings – that group gathered around the nucleus of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien – you begin to notice certain themes return in many of their works. Certainly the engagement with fantasy is there, but those familiar with “the other Inkling,” Charles Williams, begin to notice attention to Arthurian legends. A recent collection of essays on this theme, The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain edited by Sørina Higgins, receives worthy attention in a review by Ben Lockerd.

 

85542“Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards” – There are so many booklists floating around these days that it is hard to know which of them to pay attention to. John Wilson always has one of the most diverse and interesting favorites listsMaureen Corrigan pulls together a great look at some of the best books of 2018 at NPREnglewood Review of Books offers a fun Advent Calendar of the best books of the year.  In the midst of the many, I always appreciate Christianity Today’s annual book awards, which helps me pay attention to some of the most insightful biblical-theological books, as well as helps for discipleship and the life of faith. This year is no exception.

 

merton“Merton & Blake, Revisited” – Michael Higgins looks at two of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters within church history of the last 250 years: Thomas Merton and William Blake. Blake’s imagination-laden approach to Christian faith during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and Merton’s iconoclastic monastic faith during the mid-20th century has attracted many interested readers and scholars. Leaning more to an examination of Merton, Higgins wonders why he still fascinates us? Higgins suggests the “stark and vibrant display of paradox is part of his enduring appeal.”

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Pastor as Spiritual Director [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 9]

fullsizeoutput_ae1In his book Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson outlines three essential acts of pastoral ministry: prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction. These three acts are, to use a metaphor from mathematics, a holy trigonometry of three inner angles that shape outer, visible acts of ministry: preaching, teaching, and administration. I turn now, in my journey through this book, to the third of those inner angles: spiritual direction.

Peterson spends most of chapter 7, “Being a Spiritual Director,” defining and clarifying what he means by spiritual direction. Here are a few of his definitions.

Spiritual direction is the aspect of ministry that explores and develops this absorbing and devout attentiveness to “the specific detail of everyday incidents,” “the everyday occurrences of contemporary life” (150).

Spiritual direction is the task of helping a person take seriously what is treated dismissively by the publicity-infatuated and crisis-sated mind, and then to receive this “mixed random material of life”…as the raw material for high holiness (150).

Spiritual direction takes place when two people agree to give their full attention to what God is doing in one (or both) of their lives and seek to respond in faith (150).

Many are unfamiliar with the term and uneasy with its implications….what I call spiritual direction is what they [pastors] are doing when they don’t think they are doing anything important (150-151).

Peterson emphasizes the ordinary sources for spiritual direction and the relational environment in which such guidance takes place. This is a return to one of the essential tasks of pastoral ministry with a terminology that was widely used throughout the history of the church. While Peterson is not the first to encourage a return to this (see Thomas C. Oden’s 4-volume Classical Pastoral Care or John T. McNeill’s now out-of-print A History of the Cure of Souls), he does speak with direct insight into contemporary shortcomings in pastoral practice of spiritual guidance. 

Let me share a few of Peterson’s insights about the contemporary pastor’s role as spiritual director.

Being a spiritual director, which used to loom large at the center of every pastor’s common work, in our times has been pushed to the periphery of ministry. Ironically, this is the work that many people assume that pastors do all the time: teaching people to pray, helping parishioners discern the presence of grace in events and feelings, affirming the presence of God at the very heart of life, sharing a search for light through a dark passage in the pilgrimage, guiding the formation of a self-understanding that is biblically spiritual instead of merely psychological or sociological (151).

Being a spiritual director means a readiness to clear space and arrange time to look at these elements of our life that are not at all peripheral but are central — unobtrusive signals of transcendence. By naming and attending and conversing, we teach our friends to “read the Spirit” and not just the newspapers (152).

For most pastors being a spiritual director doesn’t mean introducing a new rule or adding another item to our overextended job descriptions, but simply rearranging our perspective: seeing certain acts as eternal and not ephemeral, as essential and not accidental (153).

Being a spiritual director means noticing the familiar, naming the particular. Being knowledgeable in the large truths of sin, grace, salvation, atonement, and judgment is necessary but not sufficient. A lot of our work takes place in the details of the particular (157).

I love Peterson’s comments about spiritual direction, but I almost wish that I could sit with him to see how a week of his ministry would have played out. Thankfully, he gives some practical insight for those of us looking for it: “For me, at least, formal spiritual direction involves only five or six people with whom I meet at intervals of four to six weeks” (161). This makes what Peterson is suggesting both clear and, although I hesitate to use the word about these matters, manageable. Reading works like this, or perhaps older texts on spiritual direction, we may sometimes tend to idealize the pastoral role as doing nothing but meeting with souls hungry for a word from God. Peterson graciously dashes that idealized picture, while still calling pastors to pay attention, listen, and join in the journey as guides for those God entrusts to us.

Three pithy statements in this chapter are worth holding up here at the end of the post for further reflection:

Any Christian can do this, and many do. Spiritual direction is no prerogative of the ordained ministry….But the fact that anybody can do it and that it can occur at any time and place must not be construed to mean that it can be done casually or indifferently. It needs to be practiced out of a life immersed in the pursuit of holiness (160, emphasis mine).

This is one part of our work that stubbornly resists generalizations. All the same, I will risk one: the “unimportant” parts of ministry might be the most important. The things we do when we don’t think we are doing anything significant might make the most difference (161, emphasis mine).

It would be unwise to forget for a moment that in this business we are sinners dealing with sinners; still, the primary orientation is toward God, looking for grace. It is easier to look for sin (163).

Pastors, let us return to the art of spiritual direction in our ministry, not pushing it aside as unimportant or missing the significant in what we feel is insignificant.

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

A Faith-full Imagination

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The imagination, so one definition says, is “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” With imagination, we see what is not visible to our physical eyes, hear what is audible but not in the moment, and consider what is not tangibly before us, yet is in our mind’s eye or inner thoughts.

Albert Einstein, that wonderful scientist who saw things that were not yet clear, and ushered in breakthroughs with his theories of relativity, once said, “Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

A lack of imagination is like living in a prison. The inability to grasp things beyond our sense, the inability to move beyond what is available to us, this lack of imagination shuts us inside of our limits. That’s why Muhammad Ali, known for some of his pithy sayings, in reflecting on that, once said: “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

But with imagination, we can fly beyond our cages. With imagination, we have “the one weapon against reality.”[1]

The New Testament author of the epistle of Hebrews writes:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

If imagination helps us to see things that are not immediately visible, to fly beyond our limits and the cages of our circumstances, then, in a biblical sense, imagination is important because it is intrinsic to faith. Imagination strengthens us to know the invisible God, to live life with God, and to hope in eternal truth that brings meaning beyond what our senses immediately reveal.

That is why C. S. Lewis wrote:

Reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning. [2]

Imagination is important in our spiritual lives because it becomes a resource God uses to help us hear Him in Scripture, pray with faith, and live with endurance beyond what we can see. And that vital place of imagination in our life with God in Scripture, prayer and endurance is what we see in Daniel’s life

Throughout the book, but particularly in his prayer in chapter 9, we find Daniel’s imagination set ablaze by the power of God to fly beyond the cages of his circumstances. Even though Daniel had experienced exile for more than sixty years by the time of his prayer, his vision is not limited by the difficulties in front of him. Instead, he sees with the eyes of faith, with an apocalyptic imagination, who God is and what God can and will do because of His characters and promises.

May God give us a faith-full imagination today, no matter what our senses tell us or how our circumstances threaten to imprison us.

Lord God,
take my imagination
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
set it ablaze with faith,
that the eyes of my heart
might see reality as You see it
and, like Daniel,
rise above my circumstances
in You.

[This material originally appeared in a slightly different form in my message, “Exile Faith at Prayer,” delivered on December 8/9, 2019, at Eastbrook Church.]


[1] Attributed to Jules de Gaultier.

[2] From his essay, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in Selected Literary Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).; quoted here.

Exile Faith at Prayer [Daniel 9]

We continued our series on the book of Daniel this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by turning to Daniel’s famous prayer in chapter 9. Daniel’s prayer takes place in the first year of Cyrus’ reign, around 539 BC, and references Jeremiah 25:10-11 in recognizing that the time of the exile is reaching its conclusion. Daniel has been in exile for more than 60 years, but his imagination has not been closed in by the suffering of exile. Instead his prayer takes flight through an imagination set fire by the revelations of God.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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