The Weekend Wanderer: 6 August 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.


im-591119“Pope’s Canada Visit Highlights Complex Relationship Between Catholicism and Indigenous Cultures” – Francis X. Rocca in The Wall Street Journal: “Pope Francis’s visit to Canada, which he has described as a penitential pilgrimage, took a more celebratory turn on Tuesday [of last week] when he presided at Mass in an Edmonton stadium and took part in a traditional lakeside ceremony with indigenous Catholics. Although organizers of the papal visit and the pope himself have made it clear that its purpose is to apologize for Catholics’ role in what Francis called government-sponsored ‘projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation,’ his second full day in the country highlighted a more harmonious legacy of the church’s relationship with indigenous Canadians. On Monday, the pope apologized repeatedly for Catholic participation in the country’s system of residential schools which, for more than a century, assimilated indigenous children to white culture. On Tuesday, he pointed to the church’s practice of presenting its teachings in forms compatible with local cultures.”


Nicky and Pipa Gumbel“Nicky Gumbel’s Fitting Farewell to HTB Church: ‘The Best Is Yet to Come'” – Krish Kandia in Christianity Today: “What does a lifetime of fruitful public ministry look like? Last Sunday, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) tried to answer this question in a video montage marking the end of Nicky Gumbel’s 46 years of leadership at the London multisite church. Images of people whose lives had been impacted by the senior pastor and author flashed across the screen as one incredible statistic after another scrolled past: 30 million people introduced to the Christian faith through the Alpha Course, across 140 countries and 170 languages; 2 million people fed spiritually by a Bible reading app; and 2 million meals delivered during the pandemic from HTB alone. The July 24 video was a fitting homage to a nowadays unusual career, spanning almost five decades in the same congregation. It is rare in Anglican churches in the United Kingdom for a trainee leadership position to last more than the minimum requirement of three years, with many moving regularly to the next parish. But Nicky sat under the tutelage of HTB’s then senior leader, bishop Sandy Millar, for 19 years. He was 49 years old when he took over the church, and admitted to uncertainty about it all—feeling both too young and too old to do so.”


081022green-church“What does it mean to be a green church during a climate crisis?” – Anna Woofenden in The Christian Century: “At Presbyterian-New England Congrega­tional Church in Saratoga Springs, New York, environmental sustainability is woven into every aspect of church life, from how the church is heated to what happens at coffee hour to the content of sermons to what products are purchased for events. Being a green church has become a way of life, not an issue to be debated. The pastor, Kate Forer, said that church members began this work several years ago by exploring together a series of questions that helped them to connect the dots between their actions and the entire network of creation. Where does our electricity come from? Are there opportunities for us to buy renewable energy, as a congregation and as individuals? If not, how can we as a church work to make those available? What are we doing with our trash? Are there ways to reduce our trash and increase our recycling and composting? What about transportation to church?…Such questions became powerful guides as the congregation navigated the choices and actions they were taking as a community. While people were generally supportive of the idea of being more environmentally active and sustainable, the work limped along for several years as they did a little here and a little there.”


Screen Shot 2022-07-29 at 2.05.26 PM“Are Humans Naturally Good or Evil?” – Chinese house church pastor Yang Xibo in Plough: “Sin is sly and will hide itself. If we ask why there is so much injustice in the world – massacres, war, corruption, and bribery – many people will answer without hesitation, ‘Generally people are good except for a handful of scumbags.’ Consequently, they take away judgment. In fact, this neglects sin. Communism and Marxism teach that only a few people are evil, and they become capitalists who take control over the economy. As long as we can get rid of these few, most people are intrinsically good and the world will become better as human good exceeds human evil. We all subconsciously believe this story, but what happened when the people were granted authority in China? No one wanted to work for the common good. As a result, China’s economy crashed, because people are selfish, and they would rather put more effort into taking care of their own fields than communal ones. The Bible says all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). Without being taught, the intention of a person’s heart is evil from youth (Gen. 8:21). Humanists and anthropologists often consider humans to be good, because without God that is the only hope they have. They cannot accept or bear the fact that humankind is evil. Yet such hope has been shown to be bankrupt in history.


Timeline of African American Music“Timeline of African American Music: 1600-Present” – Dr. Portia K. Maultsby and colleagues at Carnegie Hall website: “From the drumbeats of Mother Africa to the work songs and Spirituals created in a new land, a path can be traced to the blues, gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip-hop expressions of African Americans that are celebrated throughout the world. The Timeline of African American Music represents decades of scholarship conducted and led by Dr. Portia K. Maultsby, a pioneer in the study of African American music, as well as the contributions of numerous scholars. From the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music, the timeline is a detailed view of the evolution of African American musical genres that span the past 400 years. This celebration of African American musical traditions reveals the unique characteristics of each genre and style, while also offering in-depth studies of pioneering musicians who created some of America’s most timeless artistic expressions.”


mechanization and monoculture“Mechanization and Monoculture: Why eliminating the unpredictable leads to unintended consequences” – Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review: “Near the end of his brilliant memoir Tristes Tropiques, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss describes his visits to various rum distilleries in the Caribbean:

In Martinique, I had visited rustic and neglected rum-distilleries where the equipment and the methods used had not changed since the eighteenth century. In Puerto Rico, on the other hand, in the factories of the company which enjoys a virtual monopoly over the whole of the sugar production, I was faced by a display of white enamel tanks and chromium piping. Yet the various kinds of Martinique rum, as I tasted them in front of ancient wooden vats thickly encrusted with waste matter, were mellow and scented, whereas those of Puerto Rico are coarse and harsh.

Meditation on this contrast leads Levi-Strauss to a more general insight:

We may suppose, then, that the subtlety of the Martinique rums is dependent on impurities the continuance of which is encouraged by the archaic method of production. To me, this contrast illustrates the paradox of civilization: Its charms are due essentially to the various residues it carries along with it, although this does not absolve us of the obligation to purify the stream. By being doubly in the right, we are admitting our mistake. We are right to be rational and to try to increase our production and so keep manufacturing costs down. But we are also right to cherish those very imperfections we are endeavouring to eliminate. Social life consists in destroying that which gives it its savour.

A melancholy reflection, to be sure—but perhaps not an inevitable one. The Puerto Rican rum industry observed by Levi-Strauss is a clear example of what happens when, as Sigfried Giedion put it in his still-essential book from 1948, Mechanization Takes Command, mechanization conquests more and more dimensions of human existence: agriculture, food production, bathing and washing. He even has a chapter on how mass-produced furniture changes our very posture.”


Music: The War on Drugs, “Pain,” from A Deeper Understanding

Our Longing for Justice and Need for Mercy

justice and mercy.jpg

One of our deepest desires as human beings is a longing for justice. We long for our lives and the world around us to be bounded by what is just, right, true, and fair without impartiality.

At our jobs or in our classrooms, we want things to be fair with all people treated well and measured equally against a dispassionate measure of job expectations or class requirements. In elections, both here and around the world, we long for fairness in the process so that votes are counted and everyone is give appropriate consideration. This is why we have impartial monitoring groups paying attention to elections around the world. This longing for justice is behind the outcries that arise when human rights are violated, whether around the world or here in our own country. International watchdog groups give voice to the helpless or the ignored so that justice can be brought to bear in their lives. We long for justice because we experience injustice and sin in our world.

This is a concept that appears throughout the Bible. When we wonder what God is like, we inevitably encounter the God of the Bible as a God of justice. The Torah calls for maintaining justice and dealing appropriately with the wrongs in the world: protecting widows, orphans, foreigners and the weak in the face of a difficult world. The Hebrew word, mishpat, is the word most often translated as ‘justice’ in the Old Testament. It conveys the idea of right and appropriate order of a just cause being maintained in the world. When we ask the question, “What is God like?”, we discover that at least one answer is this: He is a God of justice.

But here is something interesting. Even as we long for complete justice in the world, we encounter our own need for leniency. We call for justice for wrongs done by some to us or others, but we often hesitate when we do wrongs ourselves.

When a toddler has his toy taken by another child who did not ask, the toddler cries out for the toy to be returned. It was taken unfairly. But it comes as a great surprise to that same toddler when he is placed in a time-out for unfairly taking a toy without asking from one of his peers later on. Justice looks good from one perspective but looks a bit more painful when justice hits closer to us personally.

In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was a 22-year-old college student with a promising life ahead of her. But when a man broke into her apartment and assaulted her on a warm summer night, she vowed to put him in jail for the rest of her life. When the police gathered a lineup of men for her to identify, she pointed to man #5: Ronald Cotton, as the perpetrator. In the 1985 trial, Cotton was sentenced to life in prison with little hope of release. Justice had been served, or so it appeared.

11 years later, Jennifer Thompson received a knock at the door of her home. She had moved on, gotten married, had children, but every day for 11 years, she had been praying for Ronald Cotton to die. The detective at her door had some important news for her. After a review of evidence through advanced DNA testing, it became clear that Ronald Cotton was not her assailant but, rather, another man already in prison, Bobby Poole. Ronald Cotton was not guilty.

11 years. Ronald Cotton falsely imprisoned. Jennifer Thompson held in a prison of anger. The tables had been turned and Jennifer Thompson said, “I was overwhelmed with guilt and shame for mistakenly putting an innocent man in prison….I found it almost impossible to forgive myself.”

So, when Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson were reunited, she begged for forgiveness. Ronald Cotton took her hands, and with tears in his eyes, told her that he had forgiven her a long time ago.

Ronald Cotton said that both he and Jennifer were victims of the same man. They both became wounded, but they both began to heal. He said, “I choose to forgive…so that I stay free and not be a prisoner the rest of my life.”[1]

You see, we long for justice – for things to be set right in our lives and world – but we also long for mercy because we all need it. The chasm of injustice and sin runs right through our world and also right through us. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story about a servant who was gravely indebted to a king for a tremendous amount of money. He owed the king so much money, in fact, that as a day laborer it would have taken him about 3,000 lifetimes to pay the debt off. When the king brought this man in to settle the debt – to experience justice – the servant begged for mercy. Seeing the servant’s pleas, the king decided to cancel the debt and give the man a new lease on life. Justice was going to be served but instead the servant received mercy.

Returning home, this servant encountered a fellow servant who owed him about four month’s wages and began to choke him, commanding him to repay the debt. Although this other servant too begged for mercy, the first servant denied it and had the man thrown in prison.

The king eventually heard of this situation and called the servant in. Hadn’t this servant owed the king more than he could repay in 3,000 lifetimes? Hadn’t the king shown mercy and cancelled the debt? And now the servant had thrown another man in prison for a debt of four month’s pay? Where is the justice in this lack of mercy?

We long for justice, but human justice can, honestly, at times be unjust. The encounter with justice leads us ultimately into a plea for mercy.  We long for mercy because we know we all need it. The chasm of injustice and sin runs right through our own souls as well.

What good news it is that the God of the Bible is both a God of justice and a God of mercy. One of the most prevalent cries in the psalms is for mercy: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony” (Psalm 6:2). And one of the most resounding themes of the entire Bible is that God is a God of mercy:

  • “Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)
  • “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18)
  • “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

It is in the character of God to be both just and merciful. We struggle to bring these two characteristics together, but God is capable of bringing both to bear upon human lives in a way that also reflects His wisdom.

Ultimately, we encounter this within the work of Jesus Christ, whose ministry is one of both justice and mercy. James’ description of the Christian reality speaks to the ministry of Jesus: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Paul’s marvelous summary of the good news in Ephesians 2, finds its center in the mercy of God:

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3-5)

What a gift that our strongest longing for justice meets with our strongest need for mercy in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. What is God like? He is a God of justice and a God of mercy.


[1] “Finding Freedom In Forgiveness,” NPR – This I Believe, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101469307, November 26, 2011.

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 June 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.


Juneteenth“For Christians, Juneteenth Is a Time of Jubilee” – Rasool Berry in Christianity Today: “I was never taught about Juneteenth growing up. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, the ‘cradle of liberty,’ in Pennsylvania—which was the first state to end slavery with the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780. Philly was one of the major stops on the Underground Railroad, thanks to the abolitionism of the Quakers, and the home of Richard Allen’s Free African Society. And while slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania more than 80 years before the Civil War began, I always thought of the Emancipation Proclamation as the document that ended slavery in America. It wasn’t until years later when I heard of a woman named Ms. Opal Lee, who walked halfway across the country at 89 years old to advocate for Juneteenth to become a national holiday, that I discovered a history I had never learned in school. Over two and a half years passed between President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and when the first of those enslaved in Texas tasted freedom: 900 more days of being separated from family and forced to work under the threat of violence and death. But the question remains, why does Juneteenth matter to the church?”


Taste and See“Introducing Taste and See” – Featured at The Rabbit Room blog: “Every once in a while, the Rabbit Room team has the good fortune of crossing paths with someone whose creative work is shockingly aligned with our own. These moments re-invigorate us not only in our own mission and vision, but in the desire to share the good and lasting work of kindred spirits far and wide. Most recently, this wonderful convergence has taken place with Andrew Brumme, who is directing a new documentary series called Taste and See that will blow your mind and change the way you think about breakfast. If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See. Yes, it’s that amazing. Put more succinctly, and in the words of the official website, Taste and See ‘explores the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their lives in the fields, in the kitchen and around the table serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery and wonder to be found in every meal.'”


Lawrence+Cherono+at+Kiptagat+Training+Center,+Kiptagat,+Kenya-1_web“How Christian Faith Propels Elite Kenyan Runners To Global Success” – Dr. Robert Carle in Religion Unplugged: “Since 1988, 20 out of the 25 first-place men in the Boston Marathon have been Kenyan. Of the top 25 male record holders for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 18 are Kenyan. Eight of the 10 fastest marathon runners in history are Kenyan, and the two outliers are Ethiopian. The fastest marathon time ever recorded was Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. The fastest women’s marathon ever recorded was Kenyan Bridgid Kosgei’s in the Chicago Marathon. Three-quarters of these Kenyan champions come from the Kalenjin ethnic minority, which has only 6 million people, or 0.06% of the global population. The Kalenjin live in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Iten, a town that sits on the edge of the valley at 7,000 feet above sea level, is nicknamed the City of Champions. ‘If you look at it statistically, it sort of becomes laughable,’ said David Epstein, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated. ‘There are 17 American men in history who have run under 2:10 in marathons. There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in October of 2011.’ American journalists have been fascinated by Kalenjin runners for decades, and their explanations for Kenyan dominance in running have included training, culture, biology and diet. However, one factor remains little explored or understood in media coverage: The spiritual lives of the Kalenjin runners have received scant attention.”


OPC general assembly“Orthodox Presbyterians Apologize for Racism at General Assembly” – Daniel Silliman in Christianity Today: “The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) apologized Friday for four racist incidents at its annual gathering. In a statement of ‘sorrow and regret’passed without dissent, the General Assembly said ‘there is no place in the church for such conduct’ and ‘we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people.’ The 126 commissioners from the Reformed denomination’s 296 congregations gathered in Philadelphia at Eastern University on Wednesday. The annual meetings do not normally involve much controversy and could even be considered boring when compared to the dramatic conflicts within the Presbyterian Church in America or Southern Baptist Convention.”


MISSING“The Mysterious Disappearance of Moses: Somehow the Jewish sect that claimed to follow the Messiah Jesus very quickly ceased to follow the Law” – Todd Brewer in Mockingbird: “Investigators from the missing persons unit of Christian Theology are seeking the public’s assistance in locating Moses ben Amran, who has gone missing. His last known whereabouts appear to be some time in the first century. His last known associate was Saul of Tarsus, last seen traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus on a secretive business trip. While some witnesses are claiming that Moses has been heard from recently, his public appearances have mysteriously dwindled and investigators remain baffled as to the cause. Where did Moses go? At the heart of Christian origins stands the mysterious case of Moses’ disappearance. Somehow the Jewish sect that claimed to follow the Messiah Jesus very quickly ceased to follow the Law, i.e. the covenant of Moses given on Mount Sinai.”


'Bathing the Baby Jesus in a wooden bowl', scene inspired by the apocryphal gospels. Detail of m?

“‘The Apocryphal Gospels’ Review: Good News and Fake News” – Michael J. Kruger in The Wall Street Journal: “In December 1945, Muhammad Ali—not the boxer but a peasant farmer from Nag Hammadi, a town of Upper Egypt—uncovered an ancient earthenware jar. Muhammad and his brother broke it open and found books, 13 in all, among them more than 50 ancient Christian texts. The circumstances of the discovery have long been debated—the books may not have come from a jar after all—but no one disputes that he had made one of the greatest archaeological finds in the modern era. The cache of Christian texts came to be known as the Gnostic Gospels. The discovery upended the world of biblical scholarship. The new texts generated an insatiable interest in the so-called apocryphal Gospels—the ones not included in our Bibles. For those outside the scholarly guild, what is commonly known about these ‘lost’ accounts of Jesus typically comes through blog entries, internet lore, fictional books (think of The Da Vinci Code) and a host of conspiratorial documentaries. It’s often suggested that all the ancient Gospels are more or less the same and that the four biblical Gospels made it into the canon only because of political pressure or an ecclesiastical power grab. What’s almost invariably missing in debates over such claims is a careful reading of the original apocryphal texts—which are both similar to and different from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Apocryphal Gospels edited by Cambridge University scholar Simon Gathercole, is a welcome addition to discussions about these mysterious writings. Mr. Gathercole offers a brief and helpful introduction to the world of the apocryphal Gospels, but the bulk of the volume is devoted to his English translations of the earliest apocryphal Gospels, those that appeared before A.D. 300.”


Music: Robbie Seay Band, “Psalm 91 (He Knows My Name),” from Psalms LP

Is God’s Love with Us Even in Trials?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

We all experience seasons of difficulty and challenge in our lives. As a pastor I have walked alongside many who have endured great trials in their lives. I am sure many of us reading this right now may be walking through our own difficulties. This is the unavoidable reality of living in a sinful and imperfect world alongside sinful and imperfect people as sinful and imperfect selves.

The Apostle Paul is not so naive to think such seasons will not come. He has walked through them himself, as we know from his autobiographical description: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). He does not inflict trite aphorisms or slap bumper sticker theology on the lives of other disciples.

No, in this passage Paul addresses the real, gritty experiences we all encounter that bring difficulty and suffering into our lives: spiritual warfare, physical suffering and death, our finite viewpoints, powers beyond our control, physical expanses of creation, other people, ourselves, and more. Even with all this, Paul writes, we are still “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Why? Because nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Why? Because Jesus has gone through the utter extremity of human experience in His death on the Cross, endured its shame and the weight of judgment, and through that has brought us salvation and reconciliation with God.

Can physical death separate us from God’s love? No. Can spiritual warfare? No. Can our present realities or unknown future? Not at all. Can trouble or hardship? No. Can the utter lack of basic needs in famine or nakedness? No, it cannot. Can conflict with others in words or swords? Not at all. Can any powers or the expanse of creation? No. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.

That bond given by God’s grace through faith the work of Christ is unbreakable and inseparable. We are held and sustained by God through Christ and the Cross. Even if everything falls apart and everyone walks away from us, nothing can separate us from God’s love and it is because of this that we are more than conquerors, even in the ruins. So be encouraged no matter where you are today that if you have faith in Jesus Christ, the Living God and King of all Creation holds you firmly in His loving and gracious grasp.

The Slippery Slope of Peacemaking: a resource for understanding conflict resolution by Ken Sande

As we walk through a series on unity, I was reminded of a message I gave several years ago about working through conflict in relationships. I utilized a resource developed by Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker and Resolving Everyday Conflict, called “the slippery slope of peacemaking.” I still find this to be a helpful resource, so I thought I’d share it again here.

There are a variety of ways we can respond to conflict in our lives. Sande highlights a spectrum of dealing with conflict and seeking peace. The the top of the slope is where we want to be in proactively dealing with conflict by making peace. The extremes are the tendencies we move toward as we slip off the path of pursuing peace in our conflicts.

slope

I summarized Sande’s “slippery slope” around three ideas:

1. Peace-faking by avoiding or escaping conflict. This is typified in the life of Jacob who steals his brother’s birthright, deceives his father and then flees from the conflict by hiding with his uncle, Laban (see Genesis 28). The problem with avoiding or escaping from conflict is that, except in extreme circumstances, it puts us into greater difficulties than before and we still have to deal with the conflict in the end.

2. Peace-breaking by attacking others in response to conflict. We find this in brunt reality when Cain is incensed by God’s favor toward his brother Abel. In rage, he kills his brother Abel instead of actually trying to work through the tensions with Abel or with God (see Genesis 4).

3. Peace-making by choosing a pathway toward resolving conflict and bringing deep peace. This happens when we live into the realities of the gospel of peace (see Ephesians 2) and make the statement of James our motto: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” ( (James 3:18).

You can read a much more detailed description of the slippery slope at Ken Sande’s web-site here.