The Weekend Wanderer: 24 April 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.


“How I’m Talking to My Kids About the Derek Chauvin Verdict” – Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, in The New York Times: “So we wade into the troubled waters. I let them all know that there is no escape from these issues. There is no place to hide. There is no world where they can live, learn, fall in and out of love, other than the one they inhabit. A basic teaching of Christianity is that humans are capable of profound and confounding evil. That is not a truth that exists only outside the students. It also exists within them. They must see the world for what it is. Then they must get about the work of living in a world that too often devalues Black and brown lives. There have been and will be times when that disregard will stun them to silence. In those moments, they may be able to lift only half-coherent prayers and laments to God.”


My Dream, My Taste“My Dream, My Taste” – I hope you enjoy this short film by Emily Downe that explores the nature of what it means to be human and how we have become confused about that in our contemporary milieu. This film is based on an audio clip from episode 50 of The Sacred podcast with Professor Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. The film brings us into the world of a young girl who, in pursuit of her dreams, ends up detached from others and the world around her.


Simone Weil“The Great Unsettling: Simone Weil and the need for roots” – Paul Kingsnorth writes on the need for roots and the great unsettling we are experiencing in our world: “Though there has never been a human culture that is anything but flawed, all lasting human cultures in history have been rooted. That is to say, they have been tied down by, and to, things more solid, timeless and lasting than the day-to-day processes of their functioning, or the personal desires of the individuals who inhabit them. Some of those solid things are human creations: cultural traditions, a sense of lineage and ancestry, ceremonies designed for worship or initiation. Others are non-human: the natural world in which those cultures dwell, or the divine force that they – always, without fail – worship and communicate with in some form. We need these roots. We need a sense of belonging to something that is bigger than us, across both space and time, and we underestimate that need at our peril….When a plant is uprooted, it withers and then dies. When the same happens to a person, or a people, or a planetful of both, the result is the same. Our crisis comes, I think, from our being unable to admit what on some level we know to be true: that we in the West are living inside an obsolete story. Our culture is not in danger of dying; it is already dead, and we are in denial.”


“Reconciliation Is Spiritual Formation: A framework for organizational practice” – David M. Bailey in Comment: “This past Christmas, my wife Joy and I hired my fourteen-year-old nephew to do some housecleaning and put up our Christmas tree. All was routine, when out of the blue, a loud crash reverberated through the walls. My nephew ran to the other room to see what it was before casually walking back out. Joy looked up and asked him, “What was it?” He answered nonchalantly, ‘Oh, something fell.’ ‘Well did you pick it up?’ Joy asked. ‘No,’ he responded, ‘I wasn’t the one that made it fall.’ When it comes to the issue of race in America, there are many people who see the evidence of something fallen and broken, and their response is to look at it, turn around, and say, ‘I’m not to blame, so I’m not going to take any responsibility for it.’ Others, upon awakening to the visible and less visible realities of inequity, quickly become overwhelmed. They recognize that the problems of race were created over a 350-year period before our government said, ‘It’s illegal to continue in this way.’ They can only respond with the question, ‘What in the world can I do?'”


Nabil Habashi Salama“ISIS Executes Christian Businessman Kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai” – Jayson Casper at Christianity Today: “The Islamic State has claimed another Christian victim. And Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church has won another martyr. ‘We are telling our kids that their grandfather is now a saint in the highest places of heaven,’ stated Peter Salama of his 62-year-old father, Nabil Habashi Salama, executed by the ISIS affiliate in north Sinai. ‘We are so joyful for him.’ The Salamas are known as one of the oldest Coptic families in Bir al-Abd on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Nabil was a jeweler, owning also mobile phone and clothing shops in the area. Peter said ISIS targeted his father for his share in building the city’s St. Mary Church.”


Embodied - Spinkle“Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church and What the Bible Has to Say” – Robert S. Smith reviews Preston Sprinkle’s new book Embodied at Themelios: “Of all the recent evangelical engagements with the questions raised by transgender experience, Preston Sprinkle’s Embodied is, arguably, the most comprehensive, penetrating and compelling. The book not only addresses the cultural, medical, psychological and social angles of the trans phenomenon, but also includes several chapters of incisive biblical exposition and valuable theological exploration (plus 43 pages of endnotes). Although not without the occasional inconsistency, Embodied is marked by a powerful commitment to biblical truth matched by an equally strong concern for real people. Accordingly, the work is set in a decidedly pastoral frame and is marked by a deeply compassionate tone throughout.”


Music: Leslie Odom, Jr., “Speak Now,” One Night in Miami: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I post a poem that I find helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross and the significance of Lent. Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day.” Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest of the Victorian era whose poetry was published after his death and had a significant influence on the modernist movement of poetry in the 20th-century.


I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw, ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.


Previous poems in this series:

John Donne, “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness”

Langston Hughes, “The Ballad of Mary’s Son”

An Exhortation and Prayer from Yesterday’s Worship Services (January 10, 2021)

A number of people reached out to me about the exhortation and prayer for our nation that I shared in services yesterday at Eastbrook Church. I have included it below. The exhortation was a slightly abbreviated and revised form of something I posted here on my blog on Friday. The prayer portion was a combination of my own work and suggested prayer points from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation.”


The last week has been one of the most chaotic for our nation in recent memory. The scenes in the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, were a striking contrast with the celebration of Epiphany for which that day is set aside on the church calendar. Epiphany literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The celebration offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group or nation, but people from around the globe. We also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

But Epiphany 2021 was a manifestation of a different sort, leaving all of us with various forms of pain, confusion, stress, and concern about what will come next. Divisiveness, violence, and misuse of power worked to derail governmental processes in a way that was shocking and unacceptable. As Christians, we may wonder, “Where do we go from here?”

First, bring our thoughts and feelings to God. One of the most important and difficult things to do in this present moment is to bring our thoughts and feelings to God. We are more than ready to bring them to social media, to our friends through texts, or family members through phone calls, but are we willing to first and foremost meet with God about our concerns? The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Second, we must intercede for those with authority. After offering our own needs to God, we should next step forward in prayer by interceding for our nation, specifically for those with authority. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that true repentance and humility would arrive, that safety and peace will reign, and that regardless of their political party all political leaders will be guided by God for the common good.

Third, we can cultivate peace and condemn violence. Jesus our Messiah is known as the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Where discord existed between God and humanity, as well as humans one to another, Jesus destroyed division by Himself becoming our peace (Ephesians 2:14-15). Because this is the way of Jesus, we as His followers must also be people of peace. We must let Christ’s peace rule in us because we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). We live in peace through love, turning aside from all that is contrary to peace and love, including hatred, dissension, prejudice, and violence.

Fourth, we can hold to truth and reject falsehood. We must discern falsehood no matter where it arises and name it as such so that we and others are not deceived. This requires us to be filled to overflowing with the truth of Scripture. If we meditate on talk radio, news websites (regardless of the source), or false narratives more than we meditate on God’s Word then we are sure to lose our way. If we want to flourish, then the word of God must be our constant meditation (Psalm 1:1-3). As followers of Jesus we must live in truth and name falsehood for what it is.

Fifth, we can maintain perspective. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).

Sixth, we can remain hopeful. Even amidst the ruin of the exile to Babylon the writer of Lamentations could write:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is even stronger for us as Christians who believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Regardless of the present moment, there is always hope in Christ our risen Lord.

Last, Christians must seek the glory of Christ above all things. If we understand what Daniel shows us, that kingdoms will rise and fall and God is sovereign over them all, then we will begin to understand that our overriding goal as the people of God is bringing glory of Christ. We do that in word and deed. We do that by proclaiming and embodying the love of Jesus Christ in the city and in the world. More than our side “winning” or making strides forward on a particular issue in our national politics, we must be motivated by our desire for people to truly see and know Jesus through us. It is only in Christ that all things are held together (Colossians 1:17).

In light of that, let’s join together in prayer.

Lord, we lament the state of our nation.

Lord, we lament the divisions between us as people in our nation that we cannot seem to resolve.

Lord, we lament the pain, confusion, hatred, and violence that seems to reign in our personal and national life.

Lord, we lament the lack of leadership in our governmental that has in many ways led to the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves.

Lord, we lament the darkness in our own hearts that contributes to this situation.

Lord, we pray for those who perpetrated the attacks on the Capitol, and the broader attacks on our democracy, to be brought to justice and ultimately to repentance.[1]

Lord, we pray for truth to reign in our national conversations and our communities, as well as in our church.

Lord we pray for President Trump, during the final days of his administration, that he will fulfill his duties responsibly.

Lord, we pray for President-elect Biden, that he will have wisdom as he prepares to assume office on January 20.

Lord, we pray for all our elected officials in the Senate and House of Representatives to be led by Your grace and wisdom, whether they want to be or not.

Lord, we pray for protection of our nation from any adversaries who would seek to harm us during this perilous transitional period.

Lord, we remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), so we pray that You would protect us from all spiritual evil that seeks to bring devastation upon us.

Lord, we pray for healing of relationships between Americans who are deeply divided by partisanship, that they will seek to resolve their differences peacefully and cooperate where possible for the common good.

Lord, we pray for protection of those in other countries suffering persecution, who have seen the United States as a model of democracy, who may now be endangered as dictators are emboldened to commit further abuses.

Lord, we pray for all who follow the Prince of Peace, that we will humble ourselves before God and allow the light of Christ to shine through us into our dark and broken world.

And Lord, we pray for our own church that we might stand in Your truth, be filled with Your grace, live as one through Christ, and might boldly walk forward as witnesses to You and Your Kingdom, individually and corporately.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ, who with You and the Holy Spirit, are one God, both now and forever. Amen.


[1] Some of these prayer points are taken from the NAE’s “Weekend of Prayer and Fasting for the Healing of the Nation,” https://www.nae.net/prayer-fasting-healing-nation/.

Looking Back at 2020 with Lament and Repentance

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Looking Back: Lament

Sometimes, however, when we look back over the year, particularly in this devastating last year, even while we’re trying to give thanks, we remember experiences, events, or relationships that we’d rather not have experienced. The options or more than we’d like to name: that diagnosis, that job loss, that divorce, that death, that financial hit, that relational rupture, that opportunity that disappeared…perhaps even all of 2020.

In times like this, our gratitude is mingled with sorrow. There is a space for this in the life with God that is exemplified in the psalms of lament. Lament offers us the space to express our sorrows and griefs in the presence of God.

Psalm 13 is one example of lament. The first few verses say:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
(Psalm 13:1-3a)

Lament is a valuable way to look back at the past year. Sometimes we need to name the painful areas of our lives in the presence of God without papering over them with false positivity or wishful thinking.

Writing about lament, Martin Luther said:

“What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…. And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.”[1]

I want to give permission to each of us to look back over our year with God and lament. We may need to name something in our life as a source of great sorrow or wounding, and also bring it to God from the depths of our souls.

Perhaps you may do this verbally or, as I often do, you may want to write out your own personal psalm of lament. There is something powerful about laying it out in words, and giving that to God in prayer.

Looking Back: Repent

But it is not just painful things that have happened to us that we must bring to God, but also the painful things we have done that we must bring to God. We do this so that we can name them, confess them, and turn from them. The biblical word for this is repentance.

Psalm 51 is an extended prayer of repentance that is well known. It references a time of deep crisis in the life of King David, when he has committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband, Uriah, killed, and then tries to cover it all up. Nathan the prophet confronts him about it. Psalm 51 is the repentance response that David offers in response to his failures.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Here is the naming of wrongs David has done. And it is followed by the request for forgiveness, cleansing, and turning away from sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

We all recognize that there are things in the past year that we have done to others and ourselves – ways that we have fallen short of God’s best for us. Let me suggest that it is not the best thing we can do to carry these things into the next year with us as a burden. It is important to lay them down in prayer with God, like burdens laid at the foot of the Cross.

Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Although I think this is a good practice daily, I also believe the end of the year is a good time to draw near to God and name our sins – our wrongs – before God, to ask for forgiveness and cleansing, and to turn from them in our hearts.

Something I’ve done in the past is to write certain sins on  notecard or piece of paper, and then (safely) burn them as a sign of these sins being forgiven and cast away by God.

We receive assurance in many places in Scripture that God is forgiving, most notably in 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


[1] Martin Luther, Word and Sacrament, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. E. T. Bachmann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 255 –56.

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 May 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.


George Floyd gospel legacy“George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston” – Kate Shellnut at Christanity Today: “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a ‘person of peace’ ushering ministries into the area. Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called ‘Big Floyd’ and regarded as an ‘OG,’ a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.”


AND legacy“Statement from The AND Campaign on Racialized Violence in America” – “We mourn the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The grief of their loved ones is our grief and we share in their agony. The riots in Minneapolis are not to be glorified or romanticized, but we must realize that they are a product of a riotous and unjust system. The disorder began when a man’s rights were violated and his life was taken. American racism was rioting against the people long before they took to the streets. We must condemn and address the cause before we can appropriately address the broken reaction.”


DallasWillard-sm

“Becoming The Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do The Job” – Here is some wisdom from Dallas Willard published in 1999, later compiled into a chapter in Renewing the Christian Mind, that connects with the call to spiritual and moral leadership in this moment. “We had read all of Dallas’ books and been deeply impacted by them—not least by his latest, The Divine Conspiracy. But Brian had just finished presenting some thoughts on new models of leadership—leaders marked not so much by conquest and technique, but by spiritual goodness and wisdom. And so we sat there, slumped pensively in our chairs, until someone finally said, ‘Dallas…please talk to us about how we become those kind of people.’ So, during a break, Dallas began listing some of his thoughts on a whiteboard. And then in his gracious, careful way, he challenged us to become the kind of leaders this world so desperately needs. The following is some of what he told us.”


Grief Comes to Church“Letting Grief Come to Church” – Whether we know it or not, we are all grieving different losses that the pandemic has brought into our lives. What does it mean to allow space for grief in the church and how might that help us experience release and healing in our lives? Clarissa Moll writes about this for CT Pastors, sharing five ways we can welcome what may feel unwelcome once the doors reopen at our churches.


Supreme Court Church“Supreme Court, in 5-4 Decision, Rejects Church’s Challenge to Shutdown Order”New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. ‘Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,’ Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.”


balcony church“Balcony church gains popularity in Kenya amid pandemic” – I always enjoy creativity in how churches gather people or reach out to people. Here is one that I have never heard of that seems well-suited for this time of the pandemic, flowing from a children’s outreach in Nairobi, Kenya. “Machira has taken his ‘Balcony to Balcony’ service on the road since Kenya’s first case was found in mid-March. It has become quite popular, the preacher at the All Saints Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Kenya said.”


Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral Webcasts Sunday Mass Due To Coronavirus

“Seeking to Understand the Rise, Fall, and Loss of Young Pastors” –  Robert Stewart writes at Chuck DeGroat’s blog about a serious and hard topic. “At least (five) high profile young pastors of whom I’m aware have taken their lives during these past twelve months alone. As painful as this topic is to discuss I believe that we absolutely must force ourselves to do so if we’re ever understand what’s going on here. We shouldn’t be trying to address this crisis until we better understand all the cultural, characterological, spiritual, and biological issues which influence it. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster stunned the world in 1986 all shuttle flights were grounded until the underlying cause (defective “o-rings” in the right side solid rocket booster) could be understood and resolved. Seven astronauts died unnecessarily in that incident. Almost that many young pastors (or maybe more) have died in this past year. And, the many opinions about why don’t add up to any real comprehension which could guide us towards life saving solutions. It just seems unconscionable to continue on as usual amid the carnage. So, how might we begin the quest to understand and solve this crisis with an inquiry as focused and complete as the one which solved the riddle of the Challenger?”


 

Music: Common Hymnal (featuring Dee Wilson),Rose Petals,” from Common Hymnal

[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.]