The Weekend Wanderer: 30 July 2022

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 these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


authority-980x551“Authority Is Dead, Long Live Authority” – Cassandra Nelson in Comment: “Ten years ago, I was a graduate student studying English literature. Hopefully enough time has now passed to safely confess that I had no idea what I was doing as a teacher in grad school. When undergraduates came to my office hours, we would talk for a while about books on the syllabus, or books off the syllabus, or sometimes a different subject entirely. A few came regularly. Their faces remain vivid in my mind, along with my own mild bafflement after our conversations. What do they want?, I used to wonder at the close of office hours. And do I ever supply it?  Gradually, a calling began to come into focus. I finished my PhD and spent three years teaching literature and composition at the United States Military Academy. But even then, it was still possible to become flummoxed. The last course I taught at West Point was a remedial intro class in the summer. One day our discussion centred on Tobias Wolff’s ‘Bullet in the Brain,’ a short story about an ill-tempered book critic named Anders who is shot in the head during a bank robbery. In the story, the omniscient narrator follows the bullet’s path through Anders’s brain as it sets off ‘a crackling chain of ion transports and neuro-transmissions through synapses containing memories of important moments in his life. Debate veered from the text for a moment when a cadet wondered aloud whether so much of one’s life could actually flash before one’s eyes in the midst of a seemingly instantaneous death. ‘Ma’am,’ he asked, ‘is that really how it happens?’  For a moment I was taken aback. What surprised me wasn’t the number of faces that turned in my direction, but rather the way their expressions implied I might genuinely know the answer.”


Ron Sider CT“Died: Ron Sider, Evangelical Who Pushed for Social Action” – Daniel Silliman in Christianity Today: “Ronald J. Sider, organizer of the evangelical left and author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, died on Wednesday at 82. His son told followers that Sider had suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest. For nearly 50 years, Sider called evangelicals to care about the poor and see poverty as a moral issue. He argued for an expanded understanding of sin to include social structures that perpetuate inequality and injustice, and urged Christians to see how their salvation should compel them to care for their neighbors. ‘Salvation is a lot more than just a new right relationship with God through forgiveness of sins. It’s a new, transformed lifestyle that you can see visible in the body of believers,’ he said. ‘Sin is a biblical category. Given a careful reading of the world and the Bible and our giving patterns, how can we come to any other conclusion than to say that we are flatly disobeying what the God of the Bible says about the way he wants his people to care for the poor?’ Sider was a key facilitator of the born-again left that emerged in the 1970s but lived to see American evangelicals largely turn away from concerns about war, racism, and inequality. He continued to speak out, however, and became, as a Christianity Today writer once described it, the ‘burr in the ethical saddle’ of the white evangelical horse.”


Hama_chiesa.jfif“Two people killed in a drone attack during church inauguration in Hama province” – Asia News Agency: “Two people were killed and 12 injured in yesterday’s drone attack against a church in Suqaylabiyah, a town in the central Syrian province of Hama. A large crowd of worshippers and many government officials were in attendance of the inauguration of Hagia Sophia Church, named after the monumental Byzantine Basilica in Istanbul that was turned again into a mosque a few years ago. A video of the incident shows a drone with an explosive charge crashing near the church during the celebrations, killing and wounding people. The terrorist action was blamed on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group backed by Turkey that still controls large areas in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia, the last pocket of armed opposition to the government of Bashar al Assad eleven years since the start of Syria’s civil war.”


hiddenlife4“Terrence Malick and the Question of Martyrdom” – David Michael in Plough: “In a rare public appearance to discuss his 2016 documentary, Voyage of Time, the director Terrence Malick remarked that he had “lately repented [of] the idea” of working without a script. The comment was in reference to his last three films, the so-called Weightless Trilogy (To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song), which had split critics and been skewered for their unstructured narrative and improvised dialogue. “The last picture we shot, and we’re now cutting, went back to a script that was very well ordered.” His comment made headlines across the internet, where writers speculated that the new film might prove a return to form for the auteur behind Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The Tree of Life, for which he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. A Hidden Life tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector who was imprisoned and eventually executed for refusing to swear the oath of allegiance to Hitler and fight for the Nazis. It is a masterpiece.”


superpowers instruments“We Don’t Need Superpowers. We Need Instruments.” – Andy Crouch in The Praxis Journal: “Technology is a major part of the story we are living in and responsible for as redemptive entrepreneurs. Many members of our community work directly in tech ventures, and more broadly, we all depend on technology in our professional and personal lives. And yet technology prompts a great deal of ambivalence even in those who build it and benefit from it. Many of us sense, at the very least, that we need to be thoughtful and intentional about the devices and systems we are building and adopting—that technology is not in fact “neutral” but can sometimes actively undermine human flourishing, even when in other cases it seems to bring great benefits. The moment you question any given technological development, though, you run into a powerful implicit idea, an idea whose ability to impede healthy thinking and reflection is matched only by how totally it is taken for granted most of the time. It is the belief that the story of technology fundamentally advances along one single line from ‘primitive’ to ‘advanced.’…I think this assumption is mistaken.”


glen-carrie-oHoBIbDj7lo-unsplash“Poetry and the Art of Naming” – Abram Van Engen in Reformed Journal: “In the beginning was the Word. So begins the gospel of John. And so, according to John, begins everything. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and he did so in and through Jesus, who acted as language. The Word. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. A spoken word and something new. In using language to create, God begins the world in relation. For all language—spoken or written or otherwise employed—comes from a prior relation and extends a new one. Language does not and cannot develop in a vacuum. Isolation never made a single word. Instead, every word signals a community, some relation to another. As each word is spoken or written or in some other way sent out into the world, it reaches for a listener, a reader, a person to respond. Words come from society and go out from individuals in attempts to communicate and connect. In the process, they create. Poetry dwells in words. It uses, as its tool and medium, the words that others have made and use every day for countless tasks other than poetry. As W.H. Auden noted long ago, ‘It is both the glory and the shame of poetry that its medium is not its private property, that a poet cannot invent his words and that words are products, not of nature, but of a human society which uses them for a thousand different purposes.’ For Auden, though, that shared medium served as a constant reminder that the poet is never alone: ‘however esoteric a poem may be,’ he added, ‘the fact that all its words have meanings which can be looked up in a dictionary makes it testify to the existence of other people. Even the language of Finnegans Wake was not created by Joyce ex nihilo; a purely private verbal world is not possible.'”


Music: The National, “Runaway” (Live Uncut), recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 15, 2010, originally from High Violet.

Jesus the King of Another Kingdom

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After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)

As we look at this text, we see Jesus coming as the king who brings the kingdom of God. But as Jesus brings that kingdom it comes into direct conflict with rival kingdoms.

What is a kingdom? Let me give a definition that is simple and clear. A kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.

We may not think of kingdoms much in our lives today, but we still have them. We just use different terms. We say things like the president governs the nation, the principal runs the school, or the parents maintain the household. We say things like Jeremiah or Leticia has their click of friends. We certainly encounter all sorts of kingdoms today, even though we may not use that specific word.

Rival earthly kingdoms (1:14)

When we return to Mark 1, we sense the urgency of Mark’s writing. Mark does not take time to explain what happened to John the Baptist, only that he “was put in prison.”

For the back story, we must turn to Mark 6, where we read that it was Herod Antipas, the ruler over Galilee and Perea, who imprisoned John the Baptist. Herod Antipas imprisoned John because John the Baptist was critical of Herod’s marriage to his brothers ex-wife. Later on, this criticism leads to John the Baptist’s death. Herod represents all the power and authority of human kingdoms who do what they want and manipulate others for their own gain.

Herod’s life and rule certainly fits our definition of a kingdom: “any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position.”

In his life, Herod lived like he knew he held preeminent position in the area of Galilee, if not beyond. That’s why he arrests John the Baptist when he criticizes something Herod did. Despots don’t like criticism.

But Herod’s rival earthly kingdom is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The lurching forward of Herod’s hand to imprison John becomes the momentum that leads Jesus into His ministry around Galilee. And it is in light of this rival earthly kingdom that Jesus pronounces God’s kingdom is near.

Jesus is saying that in the midst of the power struggles around Galilee and all Judea, He is presenting a different sort of way. It is a kingdom that is under the preeminent rule of God, and this is something the people were longing for. It was promised all throughout the Scriptures that God would one day reign over Israel Himself. In fact, in and around Jesus’ time there were a wide variety of rebellions that were directly linked to expectations of God’s kingdom coming.

But Jesus is presenting a different sort of way. It is the kingdom of God that comes hidden, humble, and yet full of power.

Rival personal kingdoms (1:18, 20)

There are other sorts of kingdoms, however. As Jesus turns from the setting of Herod’s power struggle with John and proclaims His message, He immediately comes into contact with four men. See here in verses 16-20 that Jesus walks beside the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon (who we know as Peter), Andrew, James and John to come after Him.

We will return to Jesus’ calling and message to them, but let’s talk for a bit about where these men stood. They were under no impression that they had authority like Herod Antipas. They were not trying to become the next president of the United States. But they still lived in their own little kingdom.

But just as Jesus’ message began to strike against Herod’s kingdom, so Jesus’ message begins to strike against these other men’s personal kingdoms. You see, a kingdom is any area or sphere in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and these men were kings over their own kingdoms: kingdoms of fishing and business, kingdoms of ruling hired men and working with their families.

Now, there is nothing wrong with these sort of kingdoms in and of themselves, but we have to recognize them for what they are. They are areas or spheres in which someone or something holds a preeminent position, and Jesus is declaring that the kingdom of God holds sway over all rival kingdoms. God is the king and He holds no rivals.

Even in our personal kingdoms, God is calling us to recognize His rule and authority.

Rival powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15)

Later on in Scripture, the Apostle Paul describes the work of Jesus Christ in this way: He “disarmed the powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).

You see, as Jesus breaks into the world, He is calling the world toward a new way of living. He is calling us to bring our kingdom and rule, whether large or small, under His kingdom and rule. All of the places where we have authority; all of the places where we have power; all of the places where we have a role over something…we must bring it to the feet of the King.

Jesus is the King – over all kingdoms and over all our lives. So let me ask us all to consider a question today: What rival kingdoms is Jesus confronting in our world?

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 September 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.

 

article_5d72a06785e29“Catholicism Made Me Protestant” – After college I worked in a Roman Catholic books and church supply store for about nine months. As I learned to navigate the store and its contents, I also went on a journey of exploring the historic roots of the Christian faith. More than once since those days, I have searched out Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as possibilities of getting to the bottom of the nature of authority within the church. Each time I have gained deeper appreciation for voices from earlier eras of the history of the church, while also returning to my Protestant roots stronger for the exploration.  Onsi A. Kamel offers an essay at First Things that echoed some aspects of my own search: “Catholicism had taught me to think like a Protestant, because, as it turned out, the Reformers had thought like catholics. Like their pope-aligned opponents, they had asked questions about justification, the authority of tradition, the mode of Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist, the nature of apostolic succession, and the Church’s wielding of the keys. Like their opponents, Protestants had appealed to Scripture and tradition. In time, I came to find their answers not only plausible, but more faithful to Scripture than the Catholic answers, and at least as well-represented in the traditions of the Church.”

 

Judgment Day Florence Cathedral“Is the ‘final judgment’ really final?” – It would be difficult to not hear some rumblings about David Bentley Hart’s new book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. Hart is a rough and tumble essayist and author, whose recent translation of the New Testament spurred a critical exchange between Hart and N. T. Wright, as well as some appreciative yet critical comments from Alan Jacobs about one of Hart’s bad intellectual habits. This latest book has already generated a lot of conversations, but is essentially an argument against the church’s reliance on a form of Augustine’s thinking and for a form of Gregory of Nyssa’s thinking on salvation and hell. The Christian Century provides this excerpt from Hart’s book for engagement. Douglas Farrow’s review in First Things is not all that appreciative of Hart’s thinking in the book, but engaging with Hart’s theological project at some level is necessary work for pastors and Christian leaders.

 

Willow Creek jd word cloud“Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?” – I have been on a journey of recovery in pastoral ministry for the last year or two. It has led me toward rediscovering what it means to be a pastor by listening to voices like Eugene Peterson and John Chrysostom, as well as exploring the dark side of leadership and what keeps ministry resilient. After serving within it for the past fifteen plus years, I am questioning nearly every aspect of non-denominational, evangelical, megachuch Christianity in North America. The flagship church for that is Willow Creek, who is now searching for a new Senior Pastor. I have some sadness for how Willow has taken so much flak in these days, but not enough sadness to avoid pointing out that most of the historically essential work of the pastor is really not present in the job description they have put forward for this role. Scot McKnight says it with much better clarity than me in this article.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“When Philip K. Dick turned to Christianity” – Most fans of science fiction know that the movies Blade Runner (1982) and the recent sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I was surprised to read this article in Salon a few months back about Dick’s turn toward Christianity shortly before his surge to fame within 1960s counterculture. While he didn’t stick with the church in its institutional form, his turn toward faith did, apparently, shape his later outlook and writings.

 

0_omPrFdurOKV3rsyv“A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone” – Those closest to me know that I’ve been on a multi-year journey to shed much of my closeness to my smartphone, some forms of technology, and social media. The most recent version of that is a project I affectionately call “the dumbest smartphone in the universe,” which is an attempt to radically simplify the apps available on my smartphone. Someday, maybe I’ll blog about it, but in the meantime read Ryan Holiday’s article which echoes many of the changes I’ve made.

 

William Blake“A blockbuster show at Tate Britain gives William Blake his due” – Two summers ago, my wife and I had the chance to get away to London for a week as part of celebrating twenty years of marriage. While there, we returned to places we had visited years ago when we both participated in a summer study program. Seeing works of revered artists in Tate Britain and Tate Modern was a highlight. While we saw many of William Blake’s drawings and etchings, this new show sounds like a delightful look at his work.

 

Music: Daniel Lanois, “The Maker,” from Acadie.

[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 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.]

Miracle Worker

This weekend at Eastbrook Church, I preached a message entitled “Miracle Worker” from Mark 4:35-5:43. This was a continuation of our series, “The Real Jesus,” through the first half of the Gospel of Mark. My main question was this: if Jesus is a miracle worker with power of the natural world, spiritual world, physical healing, and death, then how will we respond to Him?

You can listen to the message at the Eastbrook web-site here.

The outline for the message is included below:Read More »