The Weekend Wanderer: 9 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.


Amazing Love“Holy Week Playlist: Songs to Survey the Wondrous Cross” – Kelli Trujillo compiles a playlist with contributions from various people at Christianity Today: “Our special issue The Wondrous Cross reflects on eight pieces of music that help us enter into the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice. In addition to those songs, we’ve asked several Christian leaders—as well as some members of CT’s staff—to share their favorite pieces of music for contemplating the Cross and celebrating the Resurrection. You can listen to all of these songs on our Spotify playlist.”


Ketanji Brown Jackson“Ketanji Brown Jackson First Black Woman Confirmed to Supreme Court – Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung, Andrew Cowan in Sojourners: “Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court in a milestone for the United States and a victory for President Joe Biden, who made good on a campaign promise as he seeks to infuse the federal judiciary with a broader range of backgrounds. The vote to confirm the 51-year-old federal appellate judge to a lifetime job on the nation’s top judicial body was 53-47, with three Republicans – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney – joining Biden’s fellow Democrats. A simple majority was needed, as Jackson overcame Republican opposition in a Supreme Court confirmation process that remains fiercely partisan. Jackson will take the 83-year-old Breyer’s place on the liberal bloc of a court with an increasingly assertive 6-3 conservative majority. Breyer is due to serve until the court’s current term ends – usually in late June – and Jackson would be formally sworn in after that. Jackson served early in her career as a Supreme Court clerk for Breyer.”


Recovering-Piety-980x551“Recovering Piety: The old-fashioned virtue might help renew our institutions, especially the church” – Alan Jacobs in Comment: “Sir Thomas Browne offered a warning in the seventeenth century: ‘Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity. Many from the ignorance of these maxims, and an inconsiderate zeal unto truth, have too rashly charged the troops of error, and remain as trophies unto the enemies of truth. A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender: ’tis therefore far better to enjoy her with peace, then to hazard her on a battle.’ Some of my philosophical friends are horrified by Browne’s argument and remind me of St. Peter’s exhortation: ‘Always [be] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). But I would reply by noting two things: there is more than one kind of preparation, and there is more than one kind of defence. All too often Christians think of preparation for ‘making a defence’ as a matter of gathering information and training themselves in dialectical agility: anticipating arguments and coming up with clever responses to them. But the example of Joseph Knecht suggests that prayer—and contemplative prayer even more than the petitionary variety—is at least as important a mode of preparation. Indeed, I would claim that it’s more important, because in my experience it’s far less common for debating Christians to be uninformed than it is for them to be angry, truculent, and uncharitable—and to the degree that they are, they reflect a lack of preparation, a lack of piety.”


webRNS-Yelling-Argument1-1536x864“Language is hard: Are you sure they mean what you think they mean?” – Karen Swallow Prior at One Eye Squinted: “In 1712, Jonathan Swift, the Anglican clergyman most famous for his brilliant satire, published ‘A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue.’ Complaining that the English language was subject to ‘daily corruptions’ and continuous ‘abuses and absurdities,’ Swift offered a plan (perhaps facetiously) for ‘fixing our Language for ever.’ Although it would be impossible to establish a perfect English, Swift admitted, ‘I am of Opinion,’ he wrote, ‘that it is better a Language should not be wholly perfect, than that it should be perpetually changing.’ Obviously, Swift’s proposal was never implemented. Hundreds of words are added to English dictionaries every year, arising from new technologies, phenomena and trends. The number of words in English has long surpassed 1 million. Not only are new words constantly added to the language, but old words can take on new meanings, too (as anyone who’s read a quaint 19th century novel knows, for they are full of words and phrases that have less innocent meanings today). Two camps shape the field of linguistics: prescriptivism and descriptivism. A prescriptivist approach sets out the rules of grammar and usage and is concerned with how language and words should be used. A descriptivist approach, in contrast, attempts to assess and describe how language is being used. Because I teach English, I am by necessity a prescriptivist first, a descriptivist only reluctantly. It’s hard to be a prescriptivist in descriptivist world.”


_112099487_church“Sacred Space, Desecration, and Reconciliation: A Story and Some Theses”  – Brian J. Walsh in The Other Journal: “‘Brian, Shahla would like to see where we pray.’ The request wasn’t totally out of the blue. Shahla had been moved to tears a week earlier upon hearing from her friend Janice that our little group of Christians at the University of Toronto had been praying for her. An Iranian woman who had escaped the violent repression of the Islamic Revolution, Shahla had, like so many Iranian émigrés, abandoned religion. Prayer was a tool of oppression and violence in Iran, and she had found a place of safety in a decidedly secular vision of life. Nevertheless, she arrived on campus that day, and we walked down the long hallway to the chapel where the Wine Before Breakfast community gathered to worship every Tuesday morning. We looked around the space, and she noted how beautiful it was. After a few minutes, I could tell that she was ready to move on. But before Shahla and Janice left, I asked if they would come down to the chaplain’s office for a moment. I had something to give to Janice. The time in the office was also short, and the two women went on their way. An hour after they had left, Janice called. ‘Brian,’ she said, ‘This is pretty amazing. When Shahla and I left the office, she immediately told me of a dream that she had. Shahla takes dreams very seriously and often calls her sister in Iran to help her interpret them.'”


maverickcitymusic_hdv“‘All the Glory to Jesus’: Maverick City to Make History in Performance at 64th Annual Grammy Awards” – Talia Wise at CBN News: “Maverick City Music will make history at the 64th annual Grammy Awards becoming the first Christian group to perform on the grand stage in 20 years. ‘All the glory and praise goes to Jesus,’ read the group’s Instagram post. The five-time Grammy-nominated group will be the first Christian or Gospel artist to be televised during the ceremony in over 20 years as well as the first time an artist has been nominated in all four categories across the two genres. ‘Blessed is an understatement for how we feel about all #Jireh is doing in this moment – we’re making history,’ they said of their upcoming Grammy performance. ‘We truly feel that we have been placed here for such a time as this and are excited to continue to share this journey with you all!'”


Music: Fernando Jesus, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” from The Crucifixion of Jesus

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 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.


sotc-yellow“Holy Week: Practicing the Most Sacred Rhythm of All” – Ruth Haley Barton at Beyond Words, the blog for The Transforming Center: ““Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” C.S. Lewis.   I remember leading a retreat for pastors some years ago in which we talked about that place in the spiritual journey (variously called the Dark Night, the wilderness, the movement from the false self to the true self) in which there is a very profound kind of death and dying that must take place in order for something truer to emerge. We talked about the fact that it is a time when even those who have been faithful to the spiritual journey may experience loss and disillusionment, when we are humbled, confused and even begin to question those things that we used to be so sure of. It feels like dying because in some sense it is. We are dying to what is false within us—surrendering that which is passing and needs to pass—in order to be more completely given over to God. After that teaching, I walked to lunch with several young men who were in their late twenties/early thirties. They were elders at a hip and happenin’ church that was growing and developing in good ways and they had a question. I don’t remember the exact words now but it was something like this, ‘Does everyone have to go through this kind of death and dying? How can we do ministry in such a way that we don’t have to pass through such a dark night? And if we can’t, is there any way we can speed up the process so we can get it behind us?’ What they were really asking was, Isn’t there any way we can be good enough so we don’t have to die?”


spirituals“Go Tell It on the Mountain: Black spirituals aren’t just for Black churches. They should be sung by everyone”  – Stephen Michael Newby in Plough Quarterly: “It’s Christmas Eve 2021, and here I am, a descendant of enslaved Africans, leading my predominantly White Presbyterian congregation in Atlanta, Georgia, in singing the Black spiritual ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain.’ The song is not being presented to the congregation as a performance concert piece. Instead, I’ve prepared an arrangement that allows it to be what it was always meant to be: a relational, transformative, communal act of worship that joins us together. My great-grandfather six generations removed, Michael, who was enslaved less than a hundred miles from here in Jones County, Georgia, would never have imagined such a picture. I am deeply moved and thankful for this moment in time and how far we have come. Three years before I arrived at this church, I visited the Jones County archives to research my ancestry. I found the graves of the Newby family, the White landowners in the area. I stood in front of a Newby tombstone, fists clenched and heart grieved, imagining all that my ancestors had suffered at this man’s hands. The sun was shining brightly. Even the mosquitoes were quiet. At that moment God spoke into my heart and said, ‘Be reconciled.’ I had already spent three decades trying to bridge divides by bringing different genres of music into conversation. But now this call to live out reconciliation with others would lead me to share my people’s music with predominantly White congregations throughout the United States and particularly here in the South. Whatever our personal histories, I can think of no better way to express our shared longing for liberation from the bonds of racism than the spirituals.”


St Michael's Ukraine“In pictures: The Ukrainian religious sites ruined by fighting” – Jack Hunter at BBC News: “Ukraine has accused Russia of damaging or destroying at least 59 religious sites across the country since its invasion began. They include an Orthodox cathedral with its steeple ripped apart, a Jewish school struck by shelling, and parish churches left almost totally flattened. Targeting historic monuments and cultural heritage sites is a war crime under international law, according to the Hague Convention. Russia denies targeting civilian infrastructure, but the BBC has identified a number of religious sites that have suffered damage. St Michael’s Cathedral was described by Mariupol’s tourist office as ‘the most beautiful place’ in the city’s Left Bank district. Offering ‘panoramic views of the Sea of ​​Azov, green hills and coastal villages,’ the cathedral – opened in 1997 – attracted both worshippers and visitors alike, it said. But after weeks of relentless Russian bombardment on the southern port city, the Orthodox cathedral’s crowning dome is now a mangled heap of exposed steel and smashed brickwork.”


Belfast movie“The Best Movies of 2021” – Brett McCracken at The Gospel Coalition: “Twenty years ago this month, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring released in theaters. I was a freshman at Wheaton College and went to see it with a group of dorm friends. It was a magical, memorable movie-going experience; awesomely cinematic and transportive. In retrospect, I wonder if that trilogy was the last great ‘big’ cinematic event. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s films and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, few movie-going experiences have matched the awe I experienced watching Lord of the Rings. Will we ever have movies like that again? Movie-watching is changing. The screens are smaller, the experience less communal. For all but the biggest-tentpole superhero movies, most people seem to prefer watching movies from the convenience of home. How will the evolving economics of Hollywood change the nature of the films produced? Time will tell. In the meantime, interesting and soul-enriching films are still being made. On that note, the following is my list of the best films of 2021.”


Jesus-mosaic-with-conservationist-640x400“Earliest mosaic in Israel dedicated to Jesus may soon be sprung from prison” – Amanda Borschel-Dan in The Times of Israel: “Plans are underway to move Megiddo prison in order to excavate the Israeli church with the earliest mosaic dedicated to Jesus. In 2004, a Greek inscription ‘to the God Jesus Christ’ was uncovered inside a 3rd-century structure during Israel Antiquities Authority salvage operations ahead of a proposed expansion of the prison in northern Israel. On Thursday, Israel Prisons Service, Megiddo Regional Council and Israel Antiquities Authority personnel toured the Megiddo Prison in preparation for the prison’s evacuation ahead of renewed excavations at this important early Christian site, according to the IAA’s Hebrew Facebook page. The new excavations may commence in June, according to the post. In 2004-2008, Dr. Yotam Tepper headed excavations at the prison ahead of the proposed expansion. Now, in light of the significant archaeological finds, discussions are well underway to relocate the entire prison complex, re-expose the mosaics underneath and build a tourist site. ‘This structure is interpreted as the oldest Christian prayer house in the world… and in fact, it tells the story of Christianity even before it became official.'”


128136“C.S. Lewis Was a Modern Man Who Breathed Medieval Air” – Louis Markos in Christianity Today: “In the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien tells us two things about his beloved hobbits that identify them as medieval in their thinking and their behavior. First, their relationship to technology is distinctively premodern: ‘They love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skillful with tools.’ Second, their taste in books runs toward old masters like Dante, Chaucer, and Thomas Aquinas; they would not have enjoyed or understood the radical originality of novels by modern writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, or Virginia Woolf. Indeed, ‘they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions.’…Like his friend Tolkien, C. S. Lewis was a man who loved all things medieval and who infused all that he wrote with a premodern ethos that hearkened back to an older, more traditional understanding of technology, books, wisdom, and morality.”


Music: The Gesualdo Six, “Agnus Dei” from Mass for five voices by William Byrd, at Ely Cathedral

The Real St. Patrick: his confession and his prayer

st-patrick

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While most of our celebrations today may focus on wearing green and drinking beer, there is more to St. Patrick than that. As a youth, Patrick was captured in Britain by Irish marauders and enslaved in Ireland. After escaping from slavery, Patrick had a vision from God to return and serve his former captors as a missionary. While he faced many difficulties along the way, Patrick’s efforts proved fruitful, with many turning to Christ and being baptized.

Perhaps you didn’t know that St. Patrick wrote a magnificent work reflecting on his life and ministry. You can read a portion of that below. You may also enjoy the Prayer of St. Patrick.

I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.

For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name…[read the entire Confession by St. Patrick here.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 12 February 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 the articles


Want less - Brooks“How to Want Less: The secret to satisfaction has nothing to do with achievement, money, or stuff” – Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic: “I glanced into my teenage daughter’s bedroom one spring afternoon last year, expecting to find her staring absentmindedly at the Zoom screen that passed for high school during the pandemic. Instead, she was laughing uproariously at a video she had found. I asked her what she was looking at. ‘It’s an old man dancing like a chicken and singing,’ she told me. I came over to her laptop, not being above watching someone making an idiot of himself for 15 seconds of social-media fame. What I found instead was the septuagenarian rock star Mick Jagger, in a fairly recent concert, croaking out the Rolling Stones’ megahit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’—a song that debuted on the charts when I was a year old—for probably the millionth time. An audience of tens of thousands of what looked to be mostly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers sang along rapturously. ‘Is this serious?’ she asked. ‘Do people your age actually like this?’ I took umbrage, but had to admit it was a legitimate question. ‘Kind of,’ I answered. It wasn’t just the music, or even the performance, I assured her. To my mind, the longevity of that particular song—No. 2 on Rolling Stone magazine’s original list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’—has a lot to do with a deep truth it speaks. As we wind our way through life, I explained, satisfaction—the joy from fulfillment of our wishes or expectations—is evanescent. No matter what we achieve, see, acquire, or do, it seems to slip from our grasp.”


Abraham and Isaac“An Unlikely Meditation on Modern Happiness: Rereading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling – Ryan Kemp in The Hedgehog Review: “On the one hand, Fear and Trembling is a literary masterpiece. It showcases Kierkegaard at the height of his rhetorical powers. He paints Abraham’s trial in such vivid color that the reader feels anew the real tragedy of his ordeal. In addition to the poetic force of his writing, Kierkegaard is a subtle philosopher, a supreme ironist, evident in the way he deftly teases out the implications of Abraham’s status as the ‘father of faith.’ He argues that if Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is truly praiseworthy—as each of the great Abrahamic religions assumes—then faith involves a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical.’ The person of faith must be prepared to put the commands of God above the demands of ethics. This last point is what makes contemporary interest in Fear and Trembling so surprising. It’s not just that Kierkegaard paints a stark picture of what Christian faith demands; it’s the fact that he cares to discuss the topic at all. One can scarcely imagine a subject less interesting to the contemporary reader (at least the sort who would think to pick up a work of nineteenth-century Danish philosophy) than a serious, often abstruse, discussion of the meaning of faith. So why do modern readers keep returning to this bizarre little book?


Non-reactive-Leadership-980x551“Non-reactive Leadership: Lessons from René Girard and St. Ignatius of Loyola” – Dave Hillis in Comment: “There is a line in the film Gladiator that has come to inspire my days. It’s spoken early in the picture, soon after the victory of Maximus Decimus Meridius in Germania and shortly before the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aware of his son’s incapacity to succeed him as leader, the emperor asks Maximus to take his place as lord protector of Rome. Maximus balks at the request, wherein the two begin a discussion of the city itself: what it was, what it had become, and what it could be. Marcus Aurelius, aware that without some decisive action Rome will not make it through the winter, expresses his thoughts to Maximus: ‘There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish; it was so fragile.’ The choice of leadership—how each one of us leads and who we gravitate toward to lead us—is of subtle but critical importance. Will we choose leadership that is muscular and gratuitous? Or will we choose leadership that is deeply centred and divinely choreographed? Non-reactive leadership is a paradigm that helps answer this question. In the words of Robert Terry, non-reactive leadership ‘is the courage to call forth authentic action in the commons.’ What follows is a portrait of its cast.”


Priest with old Bible on black background, closeup

“Pastors serve as primary source of mental health care for Black, Latino congregants” – Amy McCaig in Rice News: “A new study of Black and Latino Christians found they often turn to their pastors for mental health care or information on mental health resources, even when those clergy feel ill-equipped to offer help or advice. ‘Where Would You Go? Race, Religion, and the Limits of Pastor Mental Health Care in Black and Latino Congregations’ includes information from focus groups with 14 pastors and interviews with 20 congregants from Black and Latino churches in Houston. The interviews explored how church members make decisions about where to seek mental health care or direct others for help. Dan Bolger from Rice University and Pamela Prickett from the University of Amsterdam authored the study, which appeared in a recent edition of the journal Religions. Bolger said that while Black and Latino church members both sought mental health care from pastors, the motivation for seeking pastoral counsel varied between the two ethnic groups. Black congregants sought pastors over medical professionals because of stigma surrounding mental health issues in the broader community. Latinos, on the other hand, sought counseling from their pastors primarily due to stigma within their church.”


alan jacobs“The Year of Repair” – Alan Jacobs at Snakes and Ladders: “One year and one day ago, I wrote: “I declare 2021 The Year of Hypomone.” As you’ll see if you read that post, hypomone is a New Testament word meaning “patient endurance,” and I hope we have all learned a few things about endurance in the past … well, two years. But endurance is not enough. Today I say: I declare 2022 The Year of Repair.  This is the year when we must turn our attention not to innovation or disruption or any of the other cool buzzwords, but to fixing the shit that needs fixing. As Steven J. Jackson has shown in an absolutely seminal essay, our situation requires ‘broken world thinking,’ and broken world thinking leads to an imperative of repair. We will look unflinchingly at what is broken. We will repent of and ask forgiveness for our role in the breaking. We will scout the landscape for the tools of repair, and be especially attentive to what we have discarded, what we have labeled as refuse. We will therefore practice ‘filth therapy.’


primopiano_14126“ASIA/PAKISTAN – Christians united in prayer: guaranteeing the protection of religious minorities” – Agenzia Fides: “‘The brutal attack on Anglican pastors, which took place in Peshawar on January 30, shook the entire Christian community in Pakistan. We strongly condemn the brutal murder of Reverend William Siraj. All of us Christians in Pakistan are united with the Anglican Church of Pakistan and with the families of the late Pastor William Siraj, and Pastor Patrick Naeem, wounded in this attack’, is what Msgr. Benny Mario Travas, Archbishop of Karachi told Fides. Two unidentified men on a motorbike opened fire on Anglican Pastors at the All Saints Church in Peshawar as they were leaving the church after Sunday liturgy. Pastor William Siraj, assistant pastor, was killed instantly and Pastor Patrick Naeem was wounded by a bullet, he is now out of danger Calling on the entire Christian community in Pakistan to unite in prayer for the deceased and wounded priests, Archbishop Travas said: ‘I appeal to the government of Pakistan to take immediate and serious action against this incident, arresting the aggressors and working for the peace and security of all religious minorities living in Pakistan.'”


Music: All Sons & Daughters, “Rest in You,” from Poets & Saints

The Weekend Wanderer: 5 February 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 the articles


Mission Nexus - Black Missionary Heroes“Black History Month Devotional Series: Black Missionary Heroes – Past and Present – Missio Nexus: “In celebration of Black History Month this devotional plan gives insight into the contributions made by African Americans Missionaries throughout history leading to present day. These unsung heroes of faith have discipled nations, planted churches, and preached the gospel under the most adverse conditions. Read their stories and the passages of scripture that highlight their faith and commitment in creating gospel movements within neighborhoods and nations. These profiles and devotionals are provided by Ambassadors Fellowship Inc. and the National African American Missions Council.”


00Syria-Christians-02-superJumbo“‘Now There Is No One’: The Lament of One of the Last Christians in a Syrian City” – Hwaida Saad, Asmaa al-Omar and Ben Hubbard in The New York Times: “On Christmas Day, Michel Butros al-Jisri, one of the last Christians in the Syrian city of Idlib, didn’t attend services, because the Islamist rebels who control the area had long since locked up the church. Nor did he gather with friends and relatives to celebrate around a tree because nearly all of his fellow Christians have either died or fled during Syria’s 10-year civil war. Instead, Mr. al-Jisri said, he went to the city’s Christian cemetery, which no one uses anymore, to sit among the graves of his forebears and mark the day quietly, by himself. ‘Who am I going to celebrate the holiday with? The walls?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want to celebrate if I am alone.’ Mr. al-Jisri, who is 90, stooped and almost deaf but still fairly robust, is a living relic of one of the many formerly vibrant Christian communities in the Middle East that appear headed for extinction. Communities across the Middle East and North Africa — some of which trace their roots to Christianity’s early days — have been struggling for decades with wars, poverty and persecution. A British government report in 2019 found that Christians in the Middle East and North Africa had fallen to less than 4 percent of the population from more than 20 percent a century ago.”


henry-nouwen“Attentiveness, Prayer, and Solitude in Community: What are the spiritual practices that keep a community and its members alive?” – Henri J. M. Nouwen in Plough: “How do we put into place the disciplines that are required to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, whether for individuals or communities? The core word is attentiveness. Be attentive, be alert, be awake. Be ready. Listen. The discipline is to be attentive to where conversion is needed. It’s not just an outer call; it comes from within. How can we stay in touch with the longing, with the desire for conversion? A lot of people I know have no desire to be converted whatsoever. The fact that you want to be converted is in itself a sign that there is something you long for that you know you are missing. And if you really do live the tension, you are living in a state of longing. If you don’t have any tension, if you don’t have any longing, you become like many people who finally end up flat and bored. Routine is all there is. Nothing excites me. Nothing really gives me life. And a lot of people live like that. So be attentive. Attentiveness is the inner goal of conversion. It has to do with attentiveness to the voice of God in your life of prayer.”


Van Gogh - The Sower“Van Gogh’s God” – Peter J. Leithart in First Things: “As I wound my way through the immersive Beyond Van Gogh exhibit at the Birmingham Jefferson County Civic Center a few days after Christmas, a question kept nagging. What did Vincent see when he gazed at the world? What experiences or ideas lurk behind his swirling skies, his screaming colors, his darkly outlined but often featureless human figures? At times, I thought I caught hints of terror in the desperation of his empty Night Café (1888) and the nightmarish flickering of trees. Vincent was institutionalized more than once. Are his paintings projections of inner turbulence?  Not according to the painter. In letters, Van Gogh claimed he tried to capture the incandescent beauty of nature, radiant with a glory beyond nature. But even a modestly theological description of Van Gogh’s work will provoke protests. After theological training and a stint ministering among the poor, Vincent turned from the Dutch Calvinism of his parents. He abandoned the church after his pastoral call wasn’t renewed, scorned the religious art of his contemporaries, and almost never painted biblical scenes.”


127563“Miracles Don’t Violate the Laws of Nature” – Craig Keener in Christianity Today: “Why do many people embrace a worldview that won’t even consider evidence for miracles? Sometimes they assume that science opposes miracles, but that assumption goes back not to scientific inquiry itself but to an 18th-century philosopher. Knowingly or unknowingly, many people have followed the thesis of Scottish skeptic David Hume (1711–1776). Hume was probably the most prominent philosopher of his generation, and surely the most influential from his time on subsequent generations. He wrote on a wide variety of topics, sometimes very insightfully but sometimes (as with his ethnocentric approach to history) in ways that would not be accepted today. Hume’s intellectual stature, earned from other works, eventually lent credibility to his 1748 essay on miracles. In this essay, Hume dismisses the credibility of miracle claims, appealing to ‘natural law’ and uniform human experience. Although an appeal to natural law might sound scientific, Hume was not a scientist; in fact, some of his views on causation would make scientific inquiry impossible. Hume’s essay on miracles also contradicts his own approach to discovering knowledge. Moreover, Hume’s essay has generated serious intellectual counterarguments since the time it was first published. One of these counterarguments was history’s first public use of Bayes’ theorem, today an essential staple in statistics.”


chamber-church-by-buro-ziyu-zhuang-qingdao_dezeen_2364_col_19-852x1278“White-metal fins form abstract exterior of Büro Ziyu Zhuang’s Chamber Church” – Alyn Griffiths in de zeen: “German-Chinese architecture practice Büro Ziyu Zhuang has completed a church in Qingdao, China, featuring walls and a tower made from dozens of spaced-out aluminium ribs. Büro Ziyu Zhuang designed the Chamber Church as part of Chinese property developer Sunac’s Aduo Town project in the Qingdao Zangma Mountain Tourism Resort. The church is positioned at the edge of a public plaza connecting it with other nearby amenities. When viewed from the plaza, the forested mountains form a dramatic natural backdrop. The architects claimed that the building combines a religious experience with secular attitude, explaining that the church ‘aims to create a spatial container that both respects the past and looks towards the future.'”


Music: Bifrost Arts [feat. Molly Parden], “Psalm 126,” from He Will Not Cry Out: Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 2