The Weekend Wanderer: 17 July 2021

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 the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“One million hours of prayer for Olympic host Japan” – Emily Anderson in Eternity: “Christians in Japan are asking the world for one million hours of prayer for their nation throughout the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Japan 1 Million is led by the Japan international Sports Partnership (JiSP) and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). They are calling on churches, individuals and families across the world to unite in prayer for Japan as it takes centre stage from the Opening Ceremony on Friday, 23 July. ‘What a gift to Japan from the global Church – one million hours of prayer for God’s Glory to fall upon our land,’ said JiSP leader Pastor Keishi Ikeda. When it comes to the good news of Christianity being spread, Japan is the second largest un-reached people group in the world. Less than one per cent of its 126 million population attend church.”


Rene Magritte - The Lovers (detail)“Why We Confess: From Augustine to Oprah” – Elizabeth Bruenig in The Hedgehog Review: “Confession, once rooted in religious practice, has assumed a secular importance that can be difficult to describe. Certainly, confessional literature is everywhere: in drive-by tweets hashtagged #confessanunpopularopinion, therapeutic reality-television settings, tell-all celebrity memoirs, and blogs brimming with lurid detail set to endless scroll. Public confession has become both self-forming and culture-forming: Although in some sense we know less about each other than ever, almost every piece of information we do learn is an act of intentional or performative disclosure. It’s easy to chalk up this love of confessional literature to the seemingly modern impulse to overshare, but public confession itself has an ancient history.”


Jesus-Way“Truth, Justice, and the Jesus Way” – This is an older post from Eugene Peterson at the Renovare blog: “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is king. If Christ is king, every thing, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things — what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’ — is required. We can — we must! — take responsibility for the way we live and work in our homes and neighborhoods, workplaces and public squares. We can refuse to permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives.”


“In Kenya, faith groups work to resettle youth returning from al-Shabab” – Fredrick Nzwili in Religion News Service: “In Kenya’s coastal region, interfaith efforts to slow down or end youth recruitment into the militant Islamist group al-Shabab are gaining progress, with some recruits abandoning the extremist group’s training grounds in Southern Somalia to return home. The group — al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa — had stepped up secret recruitments in the coastal and northeastern regions since 2011, when the East African nation’s military entered southern Somalia. The radicalized youth, many of them younger than 30, were often sent across the border to train as jihadists. But now, the activity has slowed down, partly due to efforts by the interfaith groups. More than 300 such youths who had traveled to Somalia for training as jihadists had been rescued and brought back to the country.”


Henri, Vincent and Me“Henri, Vincent, and Living in the World with Kindness” – Joseph Johnson in Englewood Review of Books: “Carol Berry first met Henri Nouwen in the bookstore at Yale Divinity School back in the 1970’s. As she recounts in her moving (and brief) book, Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh, he initially appeared like “a man dressed in a well-worn, baggy, moth-eaten sweater with a woolen scarf around his neck” (4). Though Nouwen may have looked like a disheveled, older student, he was actually teaching at Yale at the time, and Berry was deeply moved while sitting in on Nouwen’s lecture on Vincent van Gogh and the nature of the compassionate life. Nouwen is known by many as a deeply kind Catholic spiritual writer, and for me, his writings—and especially letters—have been a real gift. Nouwen felt a deep connection with van Gogh as a fellow wounded healer who desired to connect with other and provide them with comfort, and he worked hard to share this connection with his students (8). As Berry puts it, the hope was that, “Through Vincent’s story, through the parable of his life, we were to come closer to an understanding of what it meant to be a consoling presence” (52). Her book aims for a similar purpose.”


“Sierra Leonean evangelicals approach death penalty abolition process with caution” – Jonatán Soriano in Evangelical Focus: “Pressure from the international community and, above all, NGOs has led to a massive process of abolition of the death penalty in Africa. In 2016, Guinea took this step, joining Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo. In 2018 it was Burkina Faso. In 2019 Equatorial Guinea announced an abolitionist bill, and in 2020 Chad removed capital punishment from its legal system. This year Malawi declared it unconstitutional. As among several sectors of society, within the evangelical sphere in Sierra Leone, abolition is viewed differently.”


Music: Vigilantes of Love, “Skin,” from Blister Soul.

The Weekend Wanderer: 6 July 2019

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.

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This past week, I was in the beautiful north woods of Wisconsin with my family at Fort Wilderness, where I had the privilege of serving as a speaker for one of their family camps. It was a wonderful time with others from various parts of the country, enjoying God’s stunning creation, building relationships, and walking through the book of Ruth. Hopefully you could visit Fort Wilderness sometime. I don’t think you would be disappointed. In the midst of a full week, with spotty internet connection (thankfully!), I had less opportunity to read online and, because of that, “The Weekend Wanderer” is a bit shorter this week.

 

6-classical-“6 Works of Classical Music Every Christian Should Know”Jeremy Begbie, professor of theology at Duke and specialist on the interface between theology and the arts, offers a primer on classical music for Christians. “Music can be a remarkable index of the profoundest impulses and stirrings of a culture—impulses and stirrings that are often theologically charged. What, then, of classical music in particular? Strictly speaking, ‘classical music’ is the music of a fairly brief era (roughly, the second half of the 18th century), but the term is commonly used to refer to the whole stream of music associated with European concert and operatic culture, emerging around 1600. Sometimes called ‘art music,’ it’s generally regarded as there to be listened to, not just heard….And the Christian can ask a further question: ‘What might I learn theologically from what’s going on here?'”

 

authentic“Authenticity under Fire: Researchers are calling into question authenticity as a scientifically viable concept” – Everyone wants to be “real.” What does it mean, however, to be “real” or “authentic,” and is it a concept that can actually be measured? Scott Barry Kaufman reports on recent research calling into question the concept of authenticity. “Authenticity is one of the most valued characteristics in our society. As children we are taught to just ‘be ourselves’, and as adults we can choose from a large number of self-help books that will tell us how important it is to get in touch with our ‘real self’. It’s taken as a given by everyone that authenticity is a real thing and that it is worth cultivating. Even the science of authenticity has surged in recent years, with hundreds of journal articles, conferences, and workshops. However, the more that researchers have put authenticity under the microscope, the more muddied the waters of authenticity have become. Many common ideas about authenticity are being overturned. Turns out, authenticity is a real mess.”

 

US-MEXICO-BORDER-IMMIGRATION-MIGRANTS“Christ in the Camps: Migrant children are suffering. Christians need to help.” – “I humbly reach out to the only faction of Americans I know of who have the ear of the administration and who care about children: my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend evangelical churches. It seems clear that we are in the midst of a profound humanitarian crisis and that children are being forced to suffer in terrible ways. Maybe it was never supposed to be this way; maybe the system just got overwhelmed. But this is a disaster. Children are programmed to think that any separation from a parent or a caregiver is a life-or-death situation. I keep imagining one of these children having a dream that he’s home, with his mother and brothers and sisters, but then waking up to see he’s still in a terrible place. If evangelical Christians stood up for these children, things could change in the camps very quickly.”

 

5758.social“Citizens Aren’t Just Born. They’re Formed” Kevin den Dulk at Comment: “My university (yes: by press time Calvin College will be a university) recently crafted an ‘educational framework.’ Its purpose, as I understand it, is to ‘operationalize’ our primary mission. Three of its four categories of goals—’faith,’ ‘learning,’ and ‘vocation’—are standard fare for an institution of both higher learning and Christian persuasion. While the fourth category—’citizenship’—has a less obvious connection to mission, the thrust of the other three lead in its direction. A Christian university committed to learning and vocation ought to educate for citizenship, a calling none of us can escape. At least that’s my reading as a civic educator.”

Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_1974b“Solzhenitsyn: Politics and the Ascent of the Soul” – I have returned to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn again and again in the past few years. His insights are poignant and soulful in a secular age. Here’s Daniel J. Mahoney reflecting on the enduring legacy of Solzhenitsyn.  “As we rapidly move along in the twenty-first century, [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn, chronicler of the fate of the soul under both ideological despotism and, increasingly, a soft and relativistic democracy, very much remains our contemporary: a true friend of ‘liberty and human dignity,’ as Tocqueville put it, and a partisan of the human soul imparted to us by a just and merciful God.”

 

return to shire alan lee“Unscoured”Alan Jacobs wrote an alternative ending to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which he shared at his blog. It is, well…worth reading.

 

Music: Asgeir, “Underneath It,” from Afterglow.

[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.]

||40days|| week two: acknowledge our longings

What do you dream about? What captures your imagination in the middle of the day? What secret longings do you have that you keep only to yourself or a close friend?

Each of us have longings that arise within the depths of our souls. It is part of what it means to be human. As Adele Calhoun writes, “The longing for something more, no matter how weak or crackling with heat, is the evidence that God is already at work in your life.”

Some of our longings are good. It is a good longing to achieve something meaningful with our work. It is an appropriate desire to leave a worthwhile legacy behind us. The craving to be loved by another is given to us by God. It is right that we long to see lost loved ones again.

But there are other longings we have that are bent toward wrong. When we long for harm to come Read More »

Talking about Ourselves?

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Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and, more recently, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, has become a helpful voice to many within contemporary Christian writing. Miller is a writer of memoirs, “narratives composed of personal experience” according to Merriam-Webster. He works out what Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, meant when he wrote:

It’s really very easy to be a writer—all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.

The challenges of writing about oneself can be difficult, though. You open yourself to the critique and the reality of narcissism.

Don Miller realizes this, however, and wrote an interesting piece recently called “Reflections on Endless Self-promotion.” He provides some honest confessions, justifications, and observations on writing about yourself in any form.

I think that Miller’s words are particularly insightful in our culture that is increasingly bent on authenticity, whether in person, in church, or online. Miller helps us get our hands around the realities, dangers, and benefits of such emphatic personal authenticity.

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The Real Face of Community

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[About four years ago, I wrote this article for Relevant Magazine‘s online edition. Since the article is no longer available through their web-site, I thought I’d re-post it here.]

Community … community … community. Everywhere you turn, inside and outside of the church, people are obsessed with talking about community.

This is a good thing insofar as it combats the individualistic tendencies of our society. When we stop thinking about the world as millions of autonomous selves and more as related parts, we are headed in the right direction.

However, the manner in which people discuss community consistently disappoints me. It is commonly left at a superficial level. You know, the sort of community that lasts the few hours of a weeknight gathering, endures for a weekend-long retreat or exists within online communities where people know little about one another’s everyday lives. The word community is used, but the reality being discussed lacks true depth.

More pointedly, I am coming to terms with the fact that community is not about people like me. It’s easy to be in community, or at least on congenial terms, with people who are similar to me: similar musical tastes, similar clothing tastes, similar discussion interests, similar stages of life, similar political leanings, similar biting critiques of other people.

This sort of community of sameness reminds me of Jesus’ powerful statement: “You will be greatly blessed when you love those comfortably like you.” Hmm. I think I may have just misquoted the Gospels. What Jesus really says is this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Look around the room when Jesus said this. There is Simon Peter, that abrasive and over-talkative attention-getter. And James and John, the glorious “Sons of Thunder” who constantly seemed concerned with getting the places close to Jesus. Good old Thomas, whose skepticism and “glass is half full” view of life could bring such a sour tone to things. And Simon the Zealot, who, after these many months together, still talked about Jesus starting a fiery political revolution. Not to mention everyone else, some of whom seem to skulk behind the scenes with little to say about anything. It’s a miracle that these 12 guys didn’t argue all of the time about everything … oh, that’s right, they did.

It’s interesting that they apparently changed the topic once Jesus emphasized this loving one another idea again. “You’ve said that before, and we already know about it,” they may have said. “Move on, Jesus. Give us some words about more exciting matters, like the end of the world.”

It’s sort of like us.

Look around the room next time you’re gathered with other followers of Jesus. See the different faces: some attractive, some homely, some happy, some depressed, some attentive, some distracted, some awake, some sleeping. Think about the person you just bumped into at the door whom you’ve never met beyond an awkward initial conversation.

Think about the person across the room you would rather not have to talk to, let alone see. Think about the people you’re glad you haven’t seen this time. Did I hear a sigh of relief?

If only Jesus had formed a community out of something other than ordinary, irritating, disagreeable, quirky people. Life would certainly have been easier for all of us. But also less true.

Community does not exist without quirkiness, disagreement, awkwardness and difference. We—all of us so different and distinct—are made one in Christ Jesus. Just as He held that rag-tag group of disciples together, He holds us together.

The ugly side of community is that we are repulsed by community in this more authentic way. More often than not, we sell out for a paltry and superficial community that is easy and romantic, not letting our dreaminess be interrupted by the reality of you and me being made one through the tough love of Christ.

His love is tough because it cost Him everything to make us one, and twice tough because it costs us everything to really love one another as a community.