The Weekend Wanderer: 19 December 2020

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.


CT book awards“Christianity Today’s 2021 Book Awards” – I always enjoy looking at end-of-the-year book lists, regardless of the source. Christianity Today‘s annual book awards are always worth reading and this year Matt Reynolds, the books editor, offers some commentary on the distinct challenge of staying focused for this year’s selections: “I was determined to preserve a degree of principled detachment from the rush of daily headlines. Our books coverage will always stay attentive to the news cycle—after all, we’re called Christianity Today, not Christianity in General. But even in moments of crisis, we won’t allow a myopic sense of What’s Happening Now to govern our priorities, as though books not speaking directly to the danger at hand are luxuries worth indulging in only after the danger has passed.” You may also enjoy browsing through LitHub’s “https://lithub.com/the-award-winning-novels-of-2020/Award-Winning Novels of 2020.”


Francis Collins Templeton Prize“What NIH chief Francis Collins wants religious leaders to know about the coronavirus vaccines” – “Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, is a physician-geneticist who talks openly about his Christian faith and its compatibility with science. Now he’s on a mission to talk to people of faith about the coronavirus vaccines that are expected to become widely available in 2021. Since the early days of the pandemic, Collins, who watches McLean Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia services online, has urged churches to avoid holding services indoors and done interviews with religious leaders like theologian N.T. Wright and pastor Timothy Keller on how people can protect themselves. Most recently he spoke with pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore about the vaccines.”


lloyd jones child“With Faith Like a Child” – From Sally Lloyd-Jones at Comment: “I have the best bosses in all the world and the best possible job. I hate to boast, but it’s true. I work for children. And my job is to write them the best stories I can. One of the perks of the job is the hugs I get from my bosses. And the other great perk? The profound truths they teach me. Here are some of them.”


Henry Osawa Tanner - The Annunciation“A canvas that brings together Heaven and Earth: Henry Ossawa Tanner’s ‘Annunciation'” – From Joynel Fernandez at Aleteia: “Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), the first African-American painter ever to gain international acclaim, treats the classic Annunciation motif in a rather unconventional manner: he reckons the simplicity of the scene, rather than its theatrical recreation. In the intimacy of a chamber, Mary is portrayed as a dark haired Jewish peasant girl, seated at the edge of her couch in a striped crumpled attire. The orderly arrangement of the room, in contrast to her bed, suggests that Mary has suddenly been awakened in the middle of the night.”


toxic social media“Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine: The architecture of the modern web poses grave threats to humanity. It’s not too late to save ourselves” – I quit Facebook and Instagram several years ago after significant reflection, occasional stoppages from social media, and some people close to me leading me to reconsider my online life. I continue to believe that is one of the best decisions I have made in the past several years, not only because of algorithmic manipulation and information privacy, but because I came to see I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be. Here is Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic making a slightly similar but more forceful argument not for personal disengagement, but for a widespread awareness and recalibration about the damage caused by the megascale at any cost mindset of social media.


Stuart and Jill Briscoe“At 90, renowned Elmbrook pastor Stuart Briscoe is still living for God — while living with cancer” – Here’s a little local color from Milwaukee, where Stuart Briscoe, evangelist and Pastor Emeritus at Elmbrook Church, recently celebrated 90 years. This is a wonderful article in the Journal-Sentinel about Stuart and his wife, Jill, reflecting on their ministry over many years, with quite a bit of input from family, friends, and congregants. Eastbrook, where I serve as Senior Pastor, was the first of Elmbrook’s church plants just over forty years ago.


Music: Andrew Peterson, “Matthew’s Begats,” from Behold the Lamb of God

The Weekend Wanderer: 12 September 2020

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.


Alan Jacobs Bread“Hate the Sin, Not the Book: Reading works from the past can offer perspective” – In this excerpt from his latest book, Alan Jacobs invites us to engage with writing from earlier times and with differing perspectives to help us gain sanity in our lives. Building off of two earlier books, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed, Jacobs offers this latest book, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, as a complementary work for our divided and confused time. In the midst of cancel culture’s dominance in the present moment, Jacobs brings wisdom for a reasoned understanding of why hearing voices unlike ours who we may not always agree with is more valuable than we know.


Kayla Stoecklein“I Was a Pastor’s Wife. Suicide Made Me a Pastor’s Widow.” – When Pastor Andrew Stoecklein took his own life in August 2018, it shocked many people and, unfortunately, became one more in a sad series of similar events. Stoecklein’s wife, Kayla, reflects on her life in the wake of her husband’s death. “Life as I knew it changed forever and I was handed a brand-new life as a widow and single mom to our three young boys. All of a sudden ours was the sad story on the internet. I watched as images of my life and pictures of my family made headlines all around the world. We were thrust into the spotlight in an instant. While the world was watching, leaning in, listening close, I chose to speak.” If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone you know about this or reach out for help to the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255). 


Lecrare Restoration“Why Lecrae’s ‘Restoration’ Should Still Be On Repeat” – From Cameron Friend at The Witness: “This album feels like a memoir as Lecrae is publicly inviting us to participate with him in his restoration while encouraging us to take our own honest plunge. While this project might not speak to the social inequities in the way we might expect, it still has its relevance amid the mental health trauma that Americans have been experiencing during the year 2020. ‘Restoration’ is a collaborative project that speaks to his personal journey towards the restoration he so desperately needed after losing hope, wrestling with his faith, and rediscovering himself as an artist.”


Mark Galli RC“Mark Galli, former Christianity Today editor and Trump critic, to be confirmed a Catholic” – This was not a headline that I expected to read, but it was not entirely surprising to me either. I find it unfortunate that Mark Galli has become chiefly known for his controversial editorial about President Trump since his writing work is much broader and meaningful than that. However, his decision to move beyond Anglicanism to “cross the Tiber” this year has precedent in evangelicalism, from the relatively recent conversion of Francis Beckwith (former President of the Evangelical Theological Society) or the likes of Thomas Howard (renowned evangelical author and brother to Elisabeth Elliot). About his conversion, Galli says, “I want to submit myself to something bigger than myself.”


God-Angel-Heaven-Concept-1536x1152“Unconscious Learning Underlies Belief in God – Stronger Beliefs in People Who Can Unconsciously Predict Complex Patterns” – “Individuals who can unconsciously predict complex patterns, an ability called implicit pattern learning, are likely to hold stronger beliefs that there is a god who creates patterns of events in the universe, according to neuroscientists at Georgetown University. Their research, reported in the journal, Nature Communications, is the first to use implicit pattern learning to investigate religious belief. The study spanned two very different cultural and religious groups, one in the U.S. and one in Afghanistan.”


Rowan Williams“Rowan Williams: Theological Education Is for Everyone” – Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wants everyone to know that theological education is for all of us. In this interview with Benjamin Wayman, Williams says, “theological education is learning more about the world that faith creates, or the world that faith trains you to inhabit….any Christian beginning to reflect on herself or himself within the body of Christ is in that act doing theology: making Christian sense of their lives. So we shouldn’t be at all surprised if people in all parts of the body of Christ show an appetite for doing this and learning about it.” Perhaps now as much as ever we as Christians need to make Christian sense of our lives and the world around us. So let’s continue to grow theologically!


Music: Lecrae (featuring John Legend), “Drown,” from Restoration.

[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: 4 July 2020

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.


Regnerus marriage“Can the Church Save Marriage?” – The cover story in the most recent issues of Christianity Today is an attention getter. Her is Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-founder of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture: “According to a Census Bureau survey taken in 2018, only 35 percent of 25- to 34-year-old men were married, a precipitous and rapid plunge from 50 percent in 2005. These numbers point toward a clear and frightening trajectory: Marriage is getting rarer. Fast. Getting married is something humans have done for millennia out of economic practicality, if not out of love. Some challenges in tying the knot are old and mathematical—for example, more women are interested in matrimony than men. Others are recent and ideological, including the new norm of short-term relationships and the penchant for ‘keeping your options open.'”


Screen Shot 2020-07-02 at 10.07.19 AM“Evangelical leaders are speaking up about race — but will this new focus last?” – Adelle M. Banks at RNS: “Many prominent white evangelicals have made statements about Black lives in the weeks since the May 25 death of George Floyd, but is this new focus among white conservatives — and white Christians in general — momentary or lasting? Researchers working at the crossroads of religion and race say it’s too soon to say. But highlights of a forthcoming study, which looks at racism, biblical interpretation and church cultures, may indicate a long struggle ahead. Michael Emerson, co-author of the 2000 book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, said 2019 findings indicate “zero evidence” of a closing of the long-standing gap between how white evangelicals and Black Christians view racial inequality.


merlin_173727378_812b7d4e-3b86-4952-8daf-dc0aa7cd78e9-superJumbo“America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises All at Once” – David Brooks offers his take on five epic crises that are hitting our nation all at once related to COVID-19, race, politics, social justice, and economics. The result? “These five changes, each reflecting a huge crisis and hitting all at once, have created a moral, spiritual and emotional disaster. Americans are now less happy than at any time since they started measuring happiness nearly 50 years ago. Americans now express less pride in their nation than at any time since Gallup started measuring it 20 years ago.” What does Brooks suggest? You’ll have to read his article.


Supreme Court“Supreme Court opens door to state funding for religious schools” – From CNN: “In a ruling that will open the door to more public funding for religious education, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of parents in Montana seeking to use a state scholarship program to send their children to religious schools. The court said that a Montana tax credit program that directed money to private schools could not exclude religious schools. The 5-4 ruling was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by the court’s four conservative justices. ‘A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,’ Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.”


Hagia Sophia“Hagia Sophia: Turkey delays decision on turning site into mosque” – Turkey is debating whether to turn the architectural wonder, Hagia Sophia, which is currently a museum, back into a mosque. The structure was built in the 6th century as the seat of the Orthodox patriarchate in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Later, when the Ottoman Empire sacked Constantinople and renamed the city Istanbul, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. After World War I, the modern Turkish secular state was formed and Hagia Sophia was dedicated as a museum opened to the public in 1935.  Things have been changing in Turkey and this historic site is at the center of the latest controversy, which some see as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to erase Turkey’s Christian past.


Jimmy Dunn“Rest in Peace, Jimmy” – This is probably a scholarly footnote for many people, but renowned New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn passed away last week. Dunn is best known for his work on the Apostle Paul, ranging from outstanding commentaries to groundbreaking theological work related to Paul’s theology. Dunn’s work was pivotal in what has come to be known as the “New Perspective” on Paul. On that theme, you might enjoy this ten-minute introduction to the New Perspective on Paul by Dunn and N. T. Wright from over ten years ago. This remembrance by Scot McKnight, one of Dunn’s students and a highly-regarded New Testament scholar himself, is well worth the read.


Iowa landscape“When Dvořák Went to Iowa to Meet God: Music that gives voice to the longing for home” – I grew up in the Mississippi River Valley of Illinois, just across the river from Iowa. While everyone who lived in Illinois knew for sure that Iowa was not “heaven,” there is still something special about the wide open spaces of the Midwestern prairies. I did not know that the famed Czech composer Antonín Dvořák spent a transformative time in Iowa “When Dvořák looked over the grassland vastness of Iowa, he felt that very strange and contrary coupling of hopeful contentment and melancholy we sometimes feel on summer evenings, as the stars and cicadas both come up and the grass lets off a damp, fresh smell.”


Music: Gustavo Dudamel with Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, “Dvorak – Symphony no. 9 – 4th movement – Allegro con fuoco,” recorded at a celebration for Pope Benedict XVI.

[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: 28 March 2020

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.

116238“To Cancel or Not to Cancel: That Is the Question” – Like so many other church leaders, I have wrestled with adjusting to the new challenges of this time of COVID-19. We quickly cancelled public gatherings, including weekend services, due to state and local governmental orders services, but also out of the desire to love our neighbor by not spreading the virus. I do know that many churches continue to struggle with these decisions and what it means to “not forsake meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) while also “being subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Here is a joint statement on that topic issued by The National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today.


Tom Wright Coronavirus“Ask NT Wright Anything #33 – Tom on Coronavirus, self-isolating and praying through crisis” – If you’re not acquainted with the podcast, “Ask NT Wright Anything,” this is a perfect opportunity to do so. Hosted by Justin Brierley, this episode finds Tom Wright self-isolating in his home in Oxford, covering topics related to the Coronavirus pandemic. “They cover: How Christians can maintain spiritual health during isolation, the pastoral implications for churches now and in the future, and why God created a world where disease and sickness exist.”


_111407082_priest_976“Coronavirus: At least 50 priests killed by coronavirus” –  What does selfless love look like? Maybe like this. “The deadly coronavirus sweeping across the world has killed at least 50 priests, officials say. They include Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, who died early this month in Lovere, Bergamo – one of the worst-hit cities in Italy. Reports on Tuesday that he had chosen to give his respirator to a younger coronavirus patient he did not know have been denied by close friends. Italy is the world’s worst affected country with 6,820 deaths so far.”


Oberammergau

“Pandemic postpones Oberammergau ‘Passion Play,’ itself a response to a plague”  – In neighboring Germany, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a different sort of change. “In 1632, when the bubonic plague was spreading death across Europe and killed at least one member of every family in a small Bavarian Alpine town, distraught villagers in Oberammergau made a vow to God to perform a Passion play depicting the death and resurrection of Christ if their lives could be spared. As the legend goes, no further deaths were recorded and the Passionspiele — reenacting the end of the life of Jesus — has been staged every decade, or 41 times, since 1634. The coronavirus pandemic has now forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition — a total of 109 five-hour-long performances scheduled to run from May 16 to October 4. Officials announced Thursday that the world-famous open-air production, which features 2,500 residents from the town of 5,400, would be postponed two years, to May 2022.”


When a third of the world died“When a Third of the World Died” – History is important in the present moment to help us gain perspective on our own time, but also to learn from the past. Here is Mark Galli’s 1996 article from Christian History about the black plague in 14th century Europe, and its impact on the world and the church. “From 1347 to about 1350, medieval Europe experienced perhaps the greatest calamity in human history. It shouldn’t surprise us that this plague, or the Black Death as it is often called, left its mark on medieval Christianity. But in many cases, the mark it left looked as hideous as the symptoms of the Black Death itself.”


Chung Sye-kyun“S.Korea to act against churches for defying COVID-19 guidelines” – “South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Monday that his government is planning legal action against some Protestant churches for going ahead with their services, defying the ban on social gatherings. The move comes after the government claim that social distancing measures have shown positive results. South Korea on Monday said that it has reported the lowest daily figure of new COVID-19 or novel coronavirus infection since its outbreak….Chung said stern measures would be taken against churches, who have defined guidelines, meant to stem the spread of the virus. ‘The act of churches has seriously hurt not only the safety of individuals attending the service but also communities,’ Chung said while heading a meeting of various government agencies.”


116306“Pastors from Europe Tell North America: Get Ready Now” – A pastor friend shared this article by Ed Stetzer with me and I found it incredibly helpful and challenging. “This week, the Send Institute hosted a Zoom call with pastors, church planters, and missionaries in Italy and Spain to show solidarity and to glean from them how to prepare North American churches for the next few weeks. The resounding theme from the call was: Get ready.


Communion“Worship and Sacrament When the Church Is Scattered” – Every once in awhile you experience something fun when you discover two people you know separately actually know each other. That happened to me this past week when The Pastor Theologians Podcast featured Chris Ganski of City Reformed Church here in Milwaukee with Benj Petroelje, who I know from a previous ministry setting, of 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI. In this conversation, the two pastors explores what it means to worship and celebrate the sacraments in the time of COVID-19.


 

Music: Kirk Franklin and the Family, “Now Behold the Lamb,” from Christmas

[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: 21 December 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.

President Trump“Trump Should Be Removed from Office” – Christianity Today, the flagship publication for evangelicalism, broke the internet on Thursday when this article was released by its editor-in-chief, Mark Galli. While admitting that the opposing political party has had it in for President Trump since his election, CT is unequivocal: “But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” This is consistent with CT‘s earlier critique of both Presidents Nixon and Clinton during times of crisis. Galli was interviewed about the Op Ed by CNN (“Christianity Today calls for Trump’s Removal from Office“) and Emma Green in The Atlantic (“How Trump Lost an Evangelical Stalwart“).  Rod Dreher at The American Conservative also weighed in (“Christianity Today Anathematizes Trump“). 

 

_110191848_mediaitem110191845“Citizenship Amendment Act: India PM Modi appeals for calm as protests grow” – In the midst of our own political turmoil in the United States, it may be hard to pay attention to other areas, but let me urge some attention to the situation in India. There, Prime Minister Modi’z government has put forward a citizenship amendment which “allows non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who entered India illegally, to become citizens,” but restricts this for those of Muslim background. The religious aspects of this amendment have led to fierce uprisings and international outcry about persecution of religious minorities. While different in politics and context, this echoes concerns that have arisen over China’s treatment of religious minorities as well.

 

featured640px“The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons” – The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released a “computational analysis of nearly 50,000 sermons…across major Christian traditions” from churches’ online presences this past week. “The median sermon scraped from congregational websites is 37 minutes long. But there are striking differences in the typical length of a sermon in each of the four major Christian traditions analyzed in this report: Catholic, evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant and historically black Protestant.” As the primary preacher for four weekend services each weekend, with the goal of 35 minutes per message, I found this analysis fascinating. A summary of news report on the Pew Research Center’s analysis is found in “How long is the sermon? Study ranks Christian churches.”

 

Pope Francis“Pope lifts ‘pontifical secret’ rule in sex abuse cases” – One of the biggest global crises of the last decade in ecclesial discussions has to be the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, as well as others. This has left craters of pain and echoes of hypocrisy in individual churches, as well as church fellowships throughout various nations. In many cases, investigation of these cases has been limited by pontifical secrecy, a concept established to protect sensitive information that was broadened to shield information in judicial circumstances. Pope Francis’ declaration this past Tuesday removed such shielding so that appropriate information sharing can allow investigations to move forward. “‘Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret … to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorised to share information with either state authorities or the victims,’ Archbishop Scicluna said. ‘Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse.'”

 

Interior St Margaret Mary Catholic Church“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back” – There has been a tremendous amount of discussion around the shifting landscape in North America in relation to religion and emerging generations. Particularly in regards to millennials (those between ages 23 and 38), there is a recognition that increasingly percentages affiliate with no religion (“religious nones” – although some dispute this phrase) versus specific religious affiliation, whether Christianity or something else. One driving assumption that has given religious leaders comfort is the idea that one day these irreligious folks will return to church when the time is right or the need arises; often connected to when they have children. However, this comforting idea does not seem to be. As this article shared by a friend suggests, “there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.”

 

92301“Leith Anderson Has Bright Hopes for the Next Decade of Ministry” – The outgoing President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) reflects on major themes of the coming decade of Christian ministry. Some of his reflections are more factual, related to shifting demographics in our country, while others are more optimistic predictions of what lies ahead for the Christian church. Reading this article together with the previous one on religiously unaffiliated offers a healthy dialogue with differing perspectives on similar themes.

 

Music: Robbie Seay Band, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Come Thou Fount),” from December, vol 2 – Songs for Advent

[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.]