“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.
“Christianity Today’s 2023 Book Awards” – From the Editors at Christianity Today: “When my alarm buzzes on the morning of an especially busy day, I often respond with a strange lack of urgency. A low rumble of dread builds as I ponder all the chores, errands, or work tasks that need completing. But instead of resolving to get up and get cracking, I linger in bed, nearly paralyzed by the weight of responsibility. I know what I need to do, but for some reason I can’t summon the willpower to do it. Something similar plays out in the lives of many Christians, according to Uche Anizor, a professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. They know they’re supposed to love God, study Scripture, and pursue a life of holiness, but they can’t escape the clutches of spiritual indifference. In Overcoming Apathy: Gospel Hope for Those Who Struggle to Care, Anizor appeals to lukewarm believers, not with an accusing glare or a motivational speaker’s bullhorn, but with the compassion of someone who has fought this battle himself. It’s a worthy choice for CT’s Book of the Year. Across the board, the judges who read and evaluated it commended Anizor for putting his finger on a problem that routinely flies under the radar, even as it sinks so many of God’s people into a spiritual quagmire.”
“The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas: Why does the idea that this Christian festival was stolen from heathen tradition persist?” – Tom Holland at UnHerd: “In AD 932 the most powerful ruler in Britain spent Christmas on the edge of Salisbury Plain. Never before had a unitary kingdom been fashioned out of all the various realms of the Angles and the Saxons. Never before had all the other kings of the island, from the northernmost reaches of Scotland to the mountains of Wales, been compelled to acknowledge the overlordship of a single man. That December, taking the road that led through the West Saxon heartlands of his kingdom, and arriving with his court in the fortified settlement of Amesbury, Athelstan could be well satisfied with the scope of his power. Across the Channel, in the lands of the Franks, it had long been the custom of emperors to sit in state at Christmas, publicly wearing a crown. Athelstan, a king who had won for himself his own imperial dignity, was the first of his dynasty to do the same. His greatness made for a dazzling show. There was feasting, drinking, gift-giving. Sat on his throne, wearing his diadem, the King of the English bestowed largesse. On Christmas Eve he made generous grants of land. One was to an abbey, another to a lord named Alfred. Such munificence was widely seen as appropriate to the season. The radiance of the king’s hospitality blazed all the more brilliantly for the cold and darkness all around. Athelstan did not know it, but the festivities he presided over at Amesbury that Christmas of 932 had a pedigree that reached back millennia.”
“Desiring Silence: Ancient believers went to the desert seeking God in the stillness of open spaces” – Shira Telushkin in Plough: “And yet today, far from being unnerving, silence is usually the soundtrack of transcendent possibility, the sound we most associate with open space. Surely I am not the only one who waxes poetic about echoey galleries with soaring ceilings or abandoned warehouses shimmering with uninterrupted space. And what is more majestic than the desert at sunrise, an expanse of ocean, or walking alone along a forest path densely enclosed by trees? In all these moments it is the unexpected encounter with silence that heightens the experience. Silence is sonic vastness just as a desert is physical vastness. In cramped quarters we are hemmed in by stuff; in crowded soundscapes we are limited by noises. But what sounds count as silence, and what sounds count as noise? Is silence the rare glimpse of divine experience, or is it compatible with human presence, accessible and available if only we had the ears to hear it? This is the question Kim Haines-Eitzen investigates in Sonorous Desert: What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks – And What It Can Teach Us. Inspired by her work as a scholar of early Christian monasticism, the book is structured around her journeys to capture the sounds of various deserts and remote monasteries across the world, initially to gain better insight into ‘how natural sounds impacted ancient monasticism.’ She wants to know: ‘What did ancient monks hear in their environment? And what did they learn from these sounds?’ The book quickly veers from the tightness of this early interest into a narrative reflection on silence, rooted in ancient Christian sources and the sounds of remote places, but also meditating more broadly on conceptions of wilderness in the modern world, the experience of sound-seeking, and desert community. In a neat bit of multisensory innovation, each chapter includes a QR-code link to one of her field recordings.”
“State Finds ‘Substantial Evidence’ of Retaliation at Illinois Church” – Emily Belz in Christianity Today: “A 2021 firing of a female staff member from a Chicago-area church led by pastor and author Dane Ortlund was determined to have “substantial evidence” of retaliation, according to an investigation into alleged discrimination by the state of Illinois. The former director of operations at Naperville Presbyterian Church, Emily Hyland, said her termination came days after privately complaining to two elders about gender discrimination from Ortlund. At the time, she had worked at the church for eight years, and he had been senior pastor for six months. After her firing, she filed charges over gender discrimination and retaliation at the state agency. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) did not find evidence that the church or Ortlund discriminated against her based on her gender. Evidence shows that ‘Ortlund … never made any discriminatory remarks directly related to [Hyland’s] sex,’ the report said, nor was there evidence of discrimination that rose to the level of a ‘hostile work environment.’ But the agency found ‘substantial evidence’ that she was fired ‘in retaliation for having engaged in prior protected activity.'”
“Theological schools report continued drop in master of divinity degrees” – Kathryn Post at Religion News Service: “Professional degrees are gaining traction at theological schools across the U.S. and Canada, while the traditional ministerial degree, the master of divinity, is faltering, according to new data released late last month. But Chris Meinzer, senior director and chief operation officer of The Association of Theological Schools, noted that overall enrollment at ATS schools has remained stable and that the master of divinity degree isn’t dying. Instead, he said, the M.A. degree is appealing to more students. The Association of Theological Schools, an umbrella organization with over 270 member schools, reported an uptick in doctor of ministry and other professional doctoral programs designed to enhance a minister’s practical skills. Based on enrollment numbers reported by nearly 90% of schools, projected enrollment for doctoral and similar programs in 2022 was 12,300 students, a 4% increase from fall 2021 and a notable 24% increase from fall 2018, according to the ATS. The Master of Arts degree, a two-year program that trains students for a wide range of professions, including doctoral studies, nonprofit work and lay ministry, has also seen a subtle increase of 1% since fall 2021, and 5% since fall 2018, according to fall 2022 projections. The ATS reports that enrollment in M.A. programs is now on par with enrollment in master of divinity programs for the first time in ATS history, according to fall 2022 projections. The master of divinity degree — a three-year program typically chosen by students pursuing ordination — continues to decline. The projected enrollment for fall 2022 is 28,000 master of divinity students, a 4% decrease from fall 2021 and 9% decline since fall 2018. Master of divinity programs still constitute 35% of enrollment at theological schools overall, per fall 2022 projections. That’s a significant decline from the 43% of total enrollment for master of divinity degrees a decade ago.”
“Should we avoid liturgical language of light and dark?: While struggling with this question as a church songwriter, I came up with six guidelines.” – Steve Thorngate at The Christian Century: “I write liturgical songs, both music and words, and a few years ago I did a project centered on the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany cycle. There were many classic themes to explore—hope, waiting, incarnation, joy, gift. There was also one in particular that I soon realized would require some careful consideration: the play of darkness and light. Many Christians would like to excise light/dark language from our liturgical texts—or at least exclude it from any new ones—and for pretty persuasive reasons. There is a long history in the church of using words like light, white, bright, and fair to connote goodness in a straightforward way and words like dark, black, shade, and dim to connote the opposite. Most instances of such usage were not written for explicitly racist purposes (though some were). Still, this language has thrived alongside racism in White-dominated church contexts. And language—especially ritual language, repeated again and again—has great power among those who speak or hear it, power not constrained by the intent of its creators. So there is a compelling case to simply avoid this whole family of descriptive language at church: it can be and has been used to bolster White supremacy, so it just isn’t worth hanging onto. Other Christians make the reasonable point that the Bible—our primary text, shared across time and tradition—should be the norm for liturgical language. And the Bible is chock-full of light/dark imagery, with much (though not all) of it presenting light as the positive side of the coin. Jesus is the light of the world, the morning star, the one who obviates the need for lamp or sunlight, the one in whom there is no darkness at all. Forgiveness for sin washes us whiter than snow. And then, over on the other side of things, there’s the power of darkness. Why should the church avoid this language the biblical writers use so freely?”
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Benedictus,” as performed by the Choir of St. Michael at the North Gate.