The Weekend Wanderer: 23 April 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.


Rowan Williams“Eastern wisdom for western Christians” – Timothy Jones interview Rowan Williams in The Christian Century: “Rowan Williams presided over the Anglican Communion as archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, during fractious, fracturing times. Now retired as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, he recently moved home to Wales, where he engages his many commitments in the wider church at a lower profile, though his work as an academic, a prolific author and lecturer, and a well-regarded poet continues unabated. Like Augustine, one figure to whom his mind has continually returned, Williams is known for the questing spiritual fervor that undergirds and deepens his intellectual prowess. In his latest theological work, Looking East in Winter, the quintessentially Anglican leader looks with respect and even longing toward the riches of another vast Christian stream. He explores the rich resources for spiritual practice from the Eastern churches, the Jesus prayer, and Orthodoxy’s insights on the Trinity and human identity, along with social and liturgical applications. In many ways the book is a culmination: Williams’s graduate school days left him fascinated with Eastern Orthodoxy, and his doctoral thesis mined Vladimir Lossky’s theology. He shares the riches of decades of reflection with a Western Christendom that seems plagued by anxiety and angst over its calling.”


Drained Pastors“Our Pulpits Are Full of Empty Preachers” – Kyle Rohane in Christianity Today: Seven years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Deming, New Mexico, had to replace the rope hanging from its bell tower. After 75 years of regular use, it had finally unraveled. The bell has been ringing since the Pueblo mission-style building was constructed in 1941, and the church itself dates back further, to the turn of the 20th century. Not much else has endured like the bell. Today, the church building’s original adobe walls are covered by white paneling and a powder-blue roof. Out front, the steps leading to the entrance have been replaced with a wheelchair ramp. There was a time when the congregation nearly filled its 200-person sanctuary. On a recent Sunday, five people showed up. ‘That’s the lowest it’s ever been,’ Liv Johnson said. In the three decades since she started as secretary at First Presbyterian, Johnson has watched a slow trickle of people leave. ‘When I first came here, the average attendance—because I had to do that report—was 82,’ she said. ‘I remember having 35 kids for Sunday school, and now we have none.’ Still, Johnson doesn’t despair. She believes strong, stable leadership could turn things around. But recently, consistent leadership has been difficult to come by.”


Jesus Disciples The Chosen“Who is Jesus? How Pop Culture and Makers of ‘The Chosen’ Help Define His Life Amid Few Biographical Details” – Julia Duin in Newsweek: “Who is Jesus Christ? This weekend, his 2.3 billion followers will observe Easter, the Christian high holy day marking his resurrection from death. Every decade or so, a cottage industry of scholars, filmmakers, authors and clergy plow through the sparse biographical details of the man who claimed to be God in human form to discern how he lived his life.  More recently, artists, not theologians, have led the way, starting with Akiane Kramarik, a a homeschooled child from Mount Morris, Ill., whose striking head shots of a bearded, tousel-haired Jesus came from visions starting at the age of 4. By the age of 9, she was appearing on Oprah Winfrey. Film efforts range from the gritty ‘Last Days in the Desert’ (2015) with Ewan McGregor portraying an emaciated and doubting Jesus enduring 40 days in the wilderness to the Lumo Project’s ‘The Gospel Collection’ (2014-2018), a word-for-word presentation shot in Morocco and featuring British-Tamil actor Selva Rasalingam. Cultural authenticity is key; Rasalingam looks convincingly Jewish and the actors – taking a cue from Mel Gibson’s 2004 ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – spoke in Aramaic with subtitles. The most recent pop religious portrayal is The Chosen, a seven-season TV production that traces the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Some $45 million – mostly through crowdfunding – has been poured into the first two seasons of the production. A third will premiere in the fall. Hopes are to raise $100 million to eventually reach an audience of 1 billion. The show is closing in on 390 million views now.”


man playing tennis with his shadow, surreal abstract concept
man playing tennis with his shadow, surreal abstract concept

“Something Happened By Us: A Demonology” – Alan Jacobs in The New Atlantis: “On January 6, 2021, Samuel Camargo posted a video on Instagram showing him struggling to break through a police barrier to get into the U.S. Capitol building. The next day he wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m sorry to all the people I’ve disappointed as this is not who I am nor what I stand for.’ A month after the riot, Jacob Chansley, the man widely known as the QAnon Shaman, wrote a letter from his jail cell in Virginia asking Americans to ‘be patient with me and other peaceful people who, like me, are having a very difficult time piecing together all that happened to us, around us, and by us.’ ‘This is not who I am,’ ‘all that happened … by us’ — it is commonplace to hear such statements as mere evasions of responsibility, and often they are. But what if they reflect genuine puzzlement, genuine difficulty understanding one’s behavior or even seeing it as one’s own, a genuine feeling of being driven, compelled, by something other than one’s own will?”


franzlisztembed“Franz Liszt: Superstar, Sinner, Saint – For years Franz Liszt had been two men: a hedonist, scoundrel, and homewrecker, but also a generous soul who pined for a life of peace and prayer.” – Nathan Beacom in Plough Quarterly: “For a long time, Franz Liszt had been two men. In his days as a touring pianist, he was a hedonist, a scoundrel, and a homewrecker; he was also a generous soul who always pined for a life of peace and prayer. Now, on this sacred hill, things were simplifying themselves. For the first time, he was becoming one person. Underneath his years of superficial celebrity lay a desire still deeper than that which drove him after fame. ‘Holiness’ is a stuffy word, easily misused by the sentimental, but in its oldest origins, it simply means ‘wholeness.’ That is what Liszt was really searching for, and what he came nearer to finding in these, his later years. In his life and in his music, we can see that universal human drama between selfishness and salvation. In it, we can learn something about wholeness, too.”


Centro_america,_bernardino_de_Sahagún,_historia_general_de_las_cosas_de_nueva_españa,_1576-77,_cod._m.p._220“Nature does not care: Too many nature writers descend into poetic self-absorption instead of the sharp-eyed realism the natural world deserves” – Richard Smyth in Aeon: “I worry, sometimes, that knowledge is falling out of fashion – that in the field in which I work, nature writing, the multitudinous nonfictions of the more-than-human world, facts have been devalued; knowing stuff is no longer enough. Marc Hamer, a British writer on nature and gardening, said in his book Seed to Dust (2021) that he likes his head ‘to be clean and empty’ – as if, the naturalist Tim Dee remarked in his review for The Guardian, ‘it were a spiritual goal to be de-cluttered of facts’. ‘It is only humans that define and name things,’ Hamer declares, strangely. ‘Nature doesn’t waste its time on that.’ Jini Reddy, who explored the British landscape in her book Wanderland(2020), wondered which was worse, ‘needing to know the name of every beautiful flower you come across or needing to photograph it’. Increasingly, I get the impression that dusty, tweedy, moth-eaten old knowledge has had its day. Sure, it has its uses – of course, we wouldn’t want to do away with it altogether. But beside emotional truth, beside the human perspectives of the author, it seems dispensable. Am I right to worry? I know for a fact, after all, that there are still places where knowledge for its own sake is – up to a point – prized, even rewarded.”


Music: John Michael Talbot, “Jesus Prayer,” from Master Collection: The Quiet Side

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 September 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.


“In Search of a Truly Good News Faith” – Vince Bacote in Comment: “The problem of dissonance between ‘our people’ and ‘the others’ has been with us since the Fall. The lingering and stubborn challenge of race is a particularly acute example, and the evangelical movement has not escaped its thorns. How might this “good news” tradition better address this challenge? Let’s first discuss the label. American evangelicalism really took off in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and distilled Christianity to four essentials: the authority of the Bible, personal conversion experiences, salvation by Christ’s work on the cross, and an active life of faith expressed in mission and personal piety. Though both the evangelical movement and its theology have aspired to a model of complete fidelity to these essentials, the record has been mixed. As an African American who has inhabited the evangelical ethos since my time as an undergraduate, I have great appreciation for the commitment to biblical truth and efforts to encourage a serious faith that aspires to heed to the full sweep of God’s revelation. I am also acutely aware of its unfulfilled promise.”


“Our Theology of Prayer Matters More than Our Feelings” – Kristen Deede Johnson in Christianity Today: “For a season in my Christian life, I was known as the go-to person on prayer. If you had a prayer request, you could rest assured that I’d add you to my list and pray for you every morning in my quiet time. For years, a day had not gone by without me spending intentional time in prayer. If you asked me what I’d do if I was tired or discouraged, I’d have told you—in all honesty—that I found nothing more refreshing or encouraging than getting on my knees and praying….And then one day, without warning, reason, or explanation, that sense of sweet intimacy was gone. The life of prayer that I’d spent years cultivating appeared to vanish. My very relationship with God seemed threatened.”


“Orthodox church destroyed in 9/11 being rebuilt as ‘cenotaph’ to those killed” – John Lavenburg in Crux: “With less than a year left in the reconstruction of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, Michael Psaros foresees a church that honors the lives that were lost during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York. The original church was destroyed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. ‘St. Nicholas Shrine is a cenotaph to the 3,000 people that were murdered, martyred and killed on that day,’ Psaros told Crux. ‘At ground zero today you have the museums, you have the reflecting pools, but now you have faith. You have this magnificent structure whose doors will be open to people of all faiths around the world.'”


First Nations Version“First Nations Version translates the New Testament for Native American readers” – Emily McFarlan Miller at Religion News Service: “It’s a Bible verse familiar to many Christians — and even to many non-Christians who have seen John 3:16 on billboards and T-shirts or scrawled across eye black under football players’ helmets. But Terry Wildman hopes the new translation published Tuesday (Aug. 31) by InterVarsity Press, “First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament,” will help Christians and Indigenous peoples read it again in a fresh way. ‘The Great Spirit loves this world of human beings so deeply he gave us his Son — the only Son who fully represents him. All who trust in him and his way will not come to a bad end, but will have the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony,’ reads the First Nations Version of the verse.”


Evangelical Church“I Won’t Kiss Evangelicalism Goodbye” – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition: “To me, the most powerful moment so far in Mike Cosper’s podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill comes near the end of Josh Harris’ deconversion story, when Ted Olsen, executive editor at Christianity Today, reflects on his disappointment and sadness in covering so many fallen leaders in recent years. ‘It hits you in the gut every time,’ he says. At one point, having seen more and more ugly truths come to light, Ted looked out over the evangelical landscape and asked: ‘Are there any Christians? Are there real Christians? Are there Christians who believe this stuff and act on it? Or are most people doing this just as a grift or because they’ve been grifted?’ As someone who, like Ted, has sometimes seen the underbelly of hypocrisy in the church, I have felt a similar sense of disappointment and disillusionment. But lately, that sentiment hasn’t been due only to the moral failure of leaders but also to the inability or unwillingness of many influential voices to recognize and pass on the riches of the evangelical heritage we’ve received.”


Marino_Last Word“The Why & the How: Approaching life’s horizon” – Gordon Marino in Commonweal: “‘If we have our own “why” in life, we shall get along with almost any “how.”‘ In his famous Holocaust survival memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl cites this quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Frankl explains that he did not follow his fellow inmates who took their lives by running into the electric barbed-wire fences because he kept alive the hope of being reunited with his recent bride, Tilly. Unbeknownst to Frankl, there would be no reunion with his beloved. She, along with both of Frankl’s parents, was turned into smoke and ashes in the death camps. Elaborating on Nietzsche’s wisdom, Frankl writes: ‘A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”‘ Take note of Frankl’s ‘almost.’ Now, in my own fifth act, I look back and shake my head in wonder at how I survived some of my travails, many of them self-inflicted and none of them on the order of what Frankl suffered. But he and Nietzsche were right: when you are slipping into the abyss, purpose is a life raft, one that I clutched.”


Music: Bruce Cockburn, “Pacing the Cage,” from The Charity of Night.