The Weekend Wanderer: 27 May 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, 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.

22brooksNew-superJumbo.jpg“Tim Keller Taught Me About Joy” – David Brooks in The New York Times: “Tim Keller was a recliner. Whenever a particular group of my friends would get together, discussing some personal, social or philosophical issue over Zoom during the past few years, you could see Tim just chilling and enjoying it, lounging back in his chair. The conversation would flow, and finally somebody would ask: ‘Tim, what do you think?’ He’d start slow, with that wry, friendly smile. He’d mention a relevant John Bunyan poem, then an observation Kierkegaard had made or a pattern the historian David Bebbington had noticed. Then Tim would synthesize it all into the four crucial points that pierced the clouds of confusion and brought you to a new layer of understanding. I used to think of it as the Keller Clarity Beam. He didn’t make these points in a didactic or professorial way. It was more like: Hey, you’re thirsty. I happen to have this glass of water. Want a sip? It was this skill that made Tim Keller, who died on Friday at 72, one of the most important theologians and greatest preachers of our time. American evangelicalism suffers from an intellectual inferiority complex that sometimes turns into straight anti-intellectualism. But Tim could draw on a vast array of intellectual sources to argue for the existence of God, to draw piercing psychological insights from the troubling parts of Scripture or to help people through moments of suffering. His voice was warm, his observations crystal clear. We all tried to act cool around Tim, but we knew we had a giant in our midst.”

open field“Waking Ancient Seeds: Why the Middle Ages matter” – Matthew Milliner in Comment: “The chemically fortified green buzz cuts that most North Americans inflict on our patches of purchased earth remain en vogue; but with apologies to my long-suffering neighbours, I’m thinking about giving my lawn mower (reader, it is me) a break. The results could be magnificent. At least that is what my area park district came to realize. ‘Unusual and rarely-seen plants are popping up from seeds that have been sleeping here in the soil for over a hundred years,’ claims a proud sign by a nearby path. ‘No longer mowing the turf around the bases of trees allows some long-slumbering native plants to emerge, grow and flourish once again. The reappearance of the historic plants is surprising even to local botanists.’ In short, up came red trillium, wood anemone, trout lily, Virginia bluebells, and Solomon’s seal—all because people did nothing at all. It might be likewise surprising for some to learn that an evangelical college in the same area is awash in ancient Christian practices. Icons deck the walls and incense fills the air. Vigils, Marian devotion, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and sung Evensong services complement gifted preachers on the jumbotron. Candles compete with fluorescent lights, and the promise of pilgrimage lures some from the prospect of spring break on the beach. This is not the only way of being a Christian at Wheaton College (where I teach), but it certainly is a popular one, toward which many students gravitate especially as they near graduation. And as with our park district, the breakthrough came when we just stopped mowing.”

Codex Sassoon.jpg“Oldest most complete Hebrew Bible sells for $38m at auction” – David Gritten in BBC News: “The oldest most complete Hebrew Bible has been bought at Sotheby’s New York for $38.1m (£30.6m), becoming the most valuable manuscript sold at auction. The Codex Sassoon is thought to have been written about 1,100 years ago. It is the earliest surviving example of a single manuscript containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible with punctuation, vowels and accents. US lawyer and former ambassador Alfred Moses bought it for the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel. ‘The Hebrew Bible is the most influential in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilisation,’ Mr Moses said in a statement. ‘I rejoice in knowing that it belongs to the Jewish people. It was my mission, realising the historic significance of Codex Sassoon, to see it resides in a place with global access to all people.’ The winning bid exceeded the $30.8m paid by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 1994 for the Codex Leicester, Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific notebook.”

Eugene Peterson (Montana)“My Conversation with Eugene Peterson on the Arts” – W. David O. Taylor at The Rabbit Room: “Bono had already left the Peterson home on the afternoon of April 19, 2018, in order to fly back to British Columbia. He and his bandmates had been in the middle of rehearsals for the Songs of Innocence tour that was to begin just under a month later, on May 14, in Vancouver. I was sitting at the Peterson’s kitchen table, processing my interview with Bono and Eugene on the psalms. Phaedra, my wife, was with me. I noticed that the film crew had yet to put away their gear. I looked out the window to see that Eugene was sitting by himself on the deck, looking out over Flathead Lake and, beyond it, to the Mission Mountains that form part of the Rocky Mountains. I’d had a longstanding desire to ask Eugene his thoughts on the arts, but figured that I’d do it through letter correspondence. (He didn’t do email). But when I realized that everybody was idling, catching their breath, as it were, I took the opportunity to ask the crew if they wouldn’t mind recording an additional conversation with Eugene. They agreed to it and we decided to set it up on the steps that led onto dock, facing Hughes Bay. I began the interview by asking Eugene what novels he was currently reading. He told me that he and Jan, his wife, had just finished reading, out loud, as was their custom, Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home.’We’ve read all four of her novels now,’ he said. ‘It’s one in a sequence, and we just think she’s a marvelous writer and enjoy them.’ He also mentioned that he’d started a new novel by the Montanan writer, Ivan Doig.”

jacques_ellul“The One Best Way Is a Trap” – L. M. Sacasas in The Convivial Society: “The 20th century French polymath, Jacques Ellul, wrote around 50 books, but he is best remembered for The Technological Society. And this fat book, stuffed with countless examples, basically conveys a single overarching idea: modern society is ordered by one master principle, which Ellul, in French, called la technique. The standard definition of technique from Ellul goes like this: ‘Technique is the totality of methods, rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.’ That may not be the most elegant or memorable formulation. Lately, I’ve been summing up Ellul’s technique by describing it as the relentless drive to optimize all human experience for efficiency. But Ellul also helped us out with another more felicitous phrasing. He referred to technique as the search for the ‘one best way.’ So, for example, in The Technological Society Ellul wrote, ‘This “one best way” becomes a dogma that applies to increasingly more aspects of life. This destroys choice. Nothing can compete with technique.’ There’s much that could be said about a society, or a life, ordered by the relentless drive to optimize everything. Just now I want to hone in on one particular consequence that I don’t think we’ve reckoned with adequately.”

bobdylan1.jpg“Bob Dylan on Vulnerability, the Meaning of Integrity, and Music as an Instrument of Truth” – Maria Popova in The Marginalian: “Self-knowledge might be the most difficult of life’s rewards — the hardest to earn and the hardest to bear. To know yourself is to know that you are not an unassailable fixity amid the entropic storm of the universe but a set of fragilities in constant flux. To know yourself is to know that you are not invulnerable. The honest encounter with that vulnerability is the wellspring of art: Every artist’s art is their coping mechanism for the extreme sensitivity to aliveness that we call beauty — the transcendent and terrifying capacity to be moved by the world, to let something outside us stir deeply something within us. All great art — and only honest art can be great — is therefore the work of vulnerability and all integrity the function of fidelity to one’s fragilities. That is what Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941) addresses with his penetrating poetics of insight in a 1977 conversation with Jonathan Cott — that uncommonly sensitive and erudite investigator of uncommon minds.”

Music: Bob Dylan, “When You Gonna Wake Up” (Live), from Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, volume 13.

Mary, Rejoicing in God’s Mercy and Love

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Living to Please God?: singing our joy back to God

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

I was talking with someone the other day about this passage from 1 Thessalonians as a follow-up to my sermon on Sunday, “Holy Hope.” As we talked, they mentioned that the idea of living to please God sounded difficult and even painful. It conjured up the idea of living under God as a schoolmaster demanding perfection instead of a God inviting us to love.

When we think of living in a way that pleases others, there can be several shades of meaning. If I am a people-pleaser, that carries a negative connotation. It means I am trapped by other’s opinion, often contorting myself to fit others’ desires and aims for my life. In that context I am bound up and not free to be myself and live my life. However, in the context of a healthy relationship marked by love, seeking to please another person usually has a positive connotation. In that situation I am utterly free to totally be myself and yet simultaneously free to consider what brings delight to another person I dearly love. These two contexts are quite different.

Paul’s exhortation “to live in order to please God…[and] to do this more and more” arrives in a context of freedom. Because of God’s wonderful saving work in Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the need to please others by demeaning ourselves or contorting ourselves to fit others’ expectations. God speaks life to us in Christ and that life calls us to live liberated in our God-given identity redeemed in Jesus. This is why several times where this same verb form appears in Paul’s writings, living to please God is often in contrast with the idea of living to please people:

  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
  • “On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  • “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8)

When we live to please God more and more we are responding to the love of God, not twisting into some demand of God. Because God loves us more than we know and because we have been bought with a price, our lives are now liberated that we might live in a way that brings God the greatest joy as we rejoice in Him. In a sense, the melody of our life becomes a joyful echoing harmony to the loving melody God sings over us. When we read in Zephaniah 3:17 that God “will rejoice over you with singing,” that freedom in God brings forth joy in God through a loving life singing joy back over God.

Do we hear God’s joyful song over us? Do we know God delights in our joyful song back to Him?

A Prayer of Thanks for the Melody of Good News

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” (Luke 16:16)

We heard it ringing in the air—
Your voice proclaiming, “Good news! God’s Kingdom is here!”
Our hearts rose up and our ears perked up
as this message intrigued us and spoke to us.

Castaways and over-achievers, drop-outs and all-stars,
the hungry and the overfed, the thirsty and the drunkards,
the insecure and the over-confident, the sick and the well-groomed,
the misused and the misusers, the lost and those not knowing they were lost—
all of us broken sinners, poor and needy,
we heard it ringing in our ears.

When bad news dominates and ill report abounds
what You brought to us was like a fresh melody
in chaotic discord; like a cup of fresh, cool water
in a parched land; like a three-course meal
for a starved-out prisoner with no hope.

Hope—that’s what we hear in Your invitation,
and love—a love that’s eternal and unstoppable,
and joy—a joy deeper and more buoyant than any other.

We heard it ringing in the air and in our ears,
but more, we sensed it ringing in our souls.
We sensed it so deep we felt the tickle of falling fast,
and all we could do was laugh from our bellies
and sing our own soul’s melody
as You braided it in with Your good news song.

The Chaos of Joy: Remembering Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Your presence breaks over the hills like a rising sun.
Zechariah’s words echo through the atmosphere,
mingled with the rustle of feet and whisper
of palm branches laid down before You. Then
the first voice rings out, “Hosanna!”, and then
another replies, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name
of the Lord!” Then more voices resound, “Hosanna!”
The journey from the Mount of Olives to the gates
of Jerusalem assumes the momentum of an avalanche
as the crowd grows to a commotion of
great celebration. “He is here,” they seem to say.
“The One who we have waited for all our lives.”