The Weekend Wanderer: 4 April 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.


Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral Webcasts Sunday Mass Due To Coronavirus“Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To” – NT Wright’s essay in Time speaks to how lacking most answers are right now and how important it is to recover one of the most biblical responses to a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic. “Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world.”


116514“Arab Christians Have Lost Easter Before. Here’s What They Learned” – Our church has good friends around the globe, many of whom are in the Middle East: Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and more. The instability of the region during many years caused disruption of worship services and fellowship that have parallels to our present moment with the COVID-19 pandemic. This article from Christianity Today reflects largely on the Coptic and Maronite Christian realities and what we might be able to learn from it.


Anti-Asian Racism“Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19” – My wife, Kelly, and I were talking with a dear friend from Asia who related to us some of the ways prejudice against Asians is rising in our country, including recent anti-Chinese graffiti at the UW-Madison campus. In talking with another friend living in the Middle East, I heard about similar things happening there. As Christians, we must unequivocally stand against this sort of thing. I was glad to hear the Asian-American Christian Collaborative drafted this “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19.”


Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 11.12.55 AM“Pregnant in a Pandemic: Coping and Hoping” – Betsy Childs Howard: “A month ago, my mind was filled with the normal concerns of a first-time mom anticipating birth. What did I need to buy for the baby? What should I take to the hospital, and how would I get there? Who would be available from our family to help me after the birth, and when should they arrive? Then we all became aware of COVID-19, and I realized the remaining weeks of my pregnancy would be far from normal.”


ap_20089618290522_custom-4f7db72fa3acfc7d781ba78ee98ab2da873fd7a9-s1500-c85“States Consider Whether Religious Services Qualify As ‘Essential'” – After the arrest of controversial evangelist and pastor Rodney Howard-Browne for resisting state guidelines for public health during this pandemic, states around the country continue to debate whether to consider religious services as “essential” or not. South Korea has wrestled with this as one cult group became the source of a major outbreak and the government is considering legal action against those who defy public health guidelines . Regardless of the governmental orders, the joint statement by the NAE and Christianity Today (which I posted here last week) offers some guidance on how to think about whether to cancel or not cancel services. That being said, in the midst of a clear global health emergency, we have to wrestle with what it means to love God with all of who we are while also loving our neighbor. I would like to suggest that foolishness in regards to public health is neither honoring to God nor loving to our neighbor. If we’re honest this is less about cancelling than about retooling in a time of crisis so as to love God and love our neighbors well.


richc“Rich Christians in an Age of Coronavirus”Matt Soerens of World Relief takes Ron Sider’s old book title, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and applies it to the current moment and the expected stimulus Americans will receive from the government. In a time when so many needs loom large, Soerens asks, how then should we live, as rich Christians in an age of coronavirus? What would happen if we offered our portion of the stimulus to help those in need?


Stone Churches Ethiopia“Dreams of Stone: Searching for paradise in Ethiopia’s rock churches” – This is not your typical look at churches as Ishion Hutchinson, a Rastafarian from Jamaica, experiences the ancient Christian tradition in Ethiopia. Sometimes it’s good to see your own tradition through different eyes. “As we neared Biete Medhane Alem, a service was underway; the sounds of Geez, the ancient Ethiopic liturgical language, resonated through the mighty stone pillars that greeted me before the structure itself—an auditory monument, the presence of numinous poetry, an intimation of the enormous space before me, undulating and wide….as I turned a corner, I saw the praying people. Robed splendidly, mostly in white shawls, the supplicants shuttled through the rock passages.”


Old-Vintage-Books“Why Pastors Should Be Good Readers” – Here is Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College and former Senior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, speaking to the reading life of pastors. While studying with Phil’s father, Leland Ryken, at Wheaton College, I made the life-changing decision to become an English major instead of a Bible major as an undergrad. Of course, after college I went on to receive the MDiv degree with all the Bible and theology classes necessary. However, I am so glad I made that decision in my earlier studies.


 

Music: Fernando Ortega, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” from Hymns and Meditations

[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 help me think more deeply and broadly.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 December 2019

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.

FYI, I’m taking a one-week break from compiling “The Weekend Wanderer,” so don’t expect a post at the beginning of January. Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you to all those who enjoy reading this weekly compilation that I share.

 

27McCaulley-articleLarge“The Bloody Fourth Day of Christmas”Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, brings into focus one of the most shocking elements of the nativity narratives. In Matthew 2, the magi visit Jesus, first encountering King Herod, who asks them to return and tell him where this miracle baby is born. However, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, who then proceeds to slaughter all the children under the age of two in the vicinity. In the midst of this, somehow, Scripture assures us that hope breaks through, and McCaulley helps us see that in his New York Times editorial.

 

Donald Trump & Jerry Falwell“Nearly 180 Evangelical Leaders, including Billy Graham’s Granddaughter, Condemn Anti-Trump Editorial in Letter to Christianity Today – Last weekend, I began “The Weekend Wanderer” by featuring the editorial from Mark Galli of Christianity Today calling for the removal of President Trump. That editorial became top news on various news sites around the nation. What quickly followed was a widely diverse response, both positive and negative, from around evangelicalism, including a letter of opposition sent to CT by various evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, and an invitation from the Red Letter Christian group to support the impeachment efforts.  Timothy Dalrymple, President of Christianity Today, wrote a response to all of this, “The Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President.” What is clear from this dialogue is that evangelicalism is not unified in its politics, something that has been evident to many for several years. What is less clear, and something that has been debated throughout recent years, is what “evangelical” really means, and whether the term is helpful any longer.

 

114394“The Pastor’s Study Is Not a Bunker” – Not too long ago, I wrote an article about pastoral ministry that began with a reference to Gregory the Great (read “The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity”). Gregory is a fantastic example for ministry, particularly for those of us trying to live as pastors in the midst of confusing and busy times. I appreciated reading this article by John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph Small, drawn from their recent book, A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice, which I’m partway through reading. For any pastors out there, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on this one.

 

Representation of Magnum Chaos (before the Creation took place): wood marquetry by Giovan Francesco Capoferri after Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) - 16th century - Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo“Idle components: An argument against Richard Dawkins” – “Richard Dawkins’s new book Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide is relentlessly confrontational. While discussing it with me, a colleague suggested that the rhetorical tone is itself worthy of note. Dawkins is in effect making a declaration: ‘I understand all this highfalutin science; simple-minded religious believers don’t. Authority therefore resides in me. Here, for instance, is an objective account of embryology which can be contrasted with a religious view – presumably that it’s all a great miracle’. In dialectical terms, Dawkins presses his ‘antithesis’ so hard that the unwary reader may accept the erroneous ‘thesis’ (namely that believers swallow a lot of bilge) from which we must apparently recoil.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-12-24 at 6.48.19 AM“We are not divine. But we are loved. That is enough.” – Kate Bowler at The Washington Post: “We are not divine. When we confuse hope for power, we transform tragedy into failure. Most wishes — even good wishes — will not come true. Bodies age. Love slips out of our hands….This Christmas, God will be born among us, despite our best efforts. So, for those growing tired of waiting for heaven, may the season give us room to say: God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 4.42.06 PM“Inside the Ghent Altarpiece” – I first encountered the Ghent Altarpiece when I was a student in college in Art Survey. I would not say that I was widely exposed to visual art at that time, but I could already see the wonders of this piece of artwork by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. Someone recently shared with me that you can walk through this piece online and I immediately found myself transported by the vivid beauty of every part of this marvelous piece of worship artwork, which I have never seen in person. This is probably the next best thing.

 

Music: Chabros Music, “Hope to the Nations”

[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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 12 October 2019

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.

Kurds Syria Trump“Christian Leaders Say Turkish Invasion Of Syria Raises Risk Of ‘Genocide'” – Some of my good friends and partners in ministry are from Syria. Walking with them through the challenges of having to flee their war-torn homeland has helped me see and hear international news even more differently than I did before. With the happenings in our politics, it is sometimes hard to remember that there are real people on the ground in Syria, and that many of them are our Christian brothers and sisters. There has already been a subtle excavation of Christian presence from the Middle East and we need to pay attention. This is more than a foreign policy issue for followers of Jesus.

 

Amman city view, in Jordan“Jordanian Evangelicals Push for Official Recognition” – As we begin our annual MissionsFest at Eastbrook Church, we’re privileged to have one of our long-time partners in ministry from Jordan, Rev. Yousef Hashweh, join us to preach during our first weekend. The church in Jordan is strong, but shrinking because of economic and political challenges. Their voice has been valued by King Abdullah, but they struggle at time to maintain that voice in the changing tides of culture. I was interested to read on Thursday about this latest move in Jordan for evangelical churches representing five denominations (Baptists, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free, Nazarene, and Christian & Missionary Alliance) to come together to form a new Jordanian Evangelical Council.

 

J D Greear“SBC President: We Failed to Heed Victims’ Voices” – Perhaps one of the most notable issues in the North American church has been attention given to sexual abuse claims within the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the USA.  There are cases of coverups and deaf ears, leaving a dark history of regrettably unChristian behavior within the SBC.  In the midst of such darkness, I do think it is important to at least recognize that the current SBC President, J. D. Greear, appears to be trying to deal with this directly, even as there is still much work to be done.

 

92300“‘I’m a Pastor IRL'” – I may be dating myself, but I still remember when Facebook hit the scene in the midst of my years of working as a College Pastor. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but adopted it right away first as a means of communicating with students and later attempted to utilize it as a platform for ministry. It was during that same time that I began my blog here. All of these were experiments for me in utilizing new technologies as avenues for ministry to people. Some of it worked, while other parts didn’t work as well. I haven’t been on Facebook for several years now, but that’s another story. Here’s Glenn Packiam, associate senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, reflecting on some pretty significant questions. “Is there a way for us as pastors to bear God’s image in online interactions, to be a kind of icon of Christ? Let me suggest three areas to consider: identity and self (who are we?), presence and place (where are we?), and authority and power (what are we capable of?). These questions will guide us even as specific apps and devices change in the years ahead.”

 

DiklalaorEve“Israeli Photographer Brings Female Biblical Figures to Life with Magnificent Images” – “The bible has for centuries been a source of inspiration and influence for art in all its forms. The canonical collection of texts sacred to Abrahamic religions has indeed inspired some of the world’s greatest known works of art. Israeli photographer Dikla Laor has worked for six years to bring the stories of female biblical figures to life through the camera lens, embarking on a unique project to imagine these characters’ appearances, dress, and demeanor against breathtaking backdrops. Her “Biblical Women Series” includes the “first woman,” Eve, the Jewish matriarchs – Sarah, Rivka (Rebecca), Leah and Rachel – Lot’s wife, the Queen of Sheba, the prophetess Deborah, and Jezebel, among over 40 such photographs.”

 

52.large“Pluralism, Difference, and the Dynamics of Trust” – Do you ever read the news and wonder if there is any way out of the cultural divides and distrust? I do. On my more hopeful days, I believe that there are ways toward living out Christ’s kingdom in the midst of a pluralistic society that could restore hope, joy, truth, and love in peoples’ lives and the broader society. In my less hopeful days, I try not to get cynical. Underlying significant portions of this is the need for restoration of public trust. I enjoyed reading this 2017 dialogue between John Inazu, Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University, and James K. A. Smith when he was still editor at Comment. Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is on my “to read” list, and this interview encouraged me to get to it sometime soon.

 

92385“Supreme Court Cases Challenge LGBT Rights-Religious Liberty Balancing Act” – Speaking of difference and the dynamics of trust, the Supreme Court has been giving attention to the most significant case at the nexus of sexual rights and religious liberty since the 2015 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. “The United States Supreme Court was debating the meaning of the word sex on Tuesday when Chief Justice John Roberts brought up religion. He called it ‘that other concern’—religious liberty. Roberts asked: How can the government protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in the workplace and the rights of religious groups to employ people who agree on issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity?”

 

N T Wright“Discerning the Dawn: History, Eschatology and New Creation” – Anytime N. T. Wright is publishes a new book, I take interest. Wright is an amazing scholar of the New Testament and Christian history. When I heard about his forthcoming book, History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology, it caught my attention because of the interesting combination of ideas. I wondered what it was about, and then I discovered that this book is drawn from Wright’s eight Gifford lectures in 2018, which are available online for viewing. If you have more time than I do, you may enjoy watching all of them.

 

Music: Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno, “An Ending (Ascent),” from Apollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks.

[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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 21 September 2019

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.

 

article_5d72a06785e29“Catholicism Made Me Protestant” – After college I worked in a Roman Catholic books and church supply store for about nine months. As I learned to navigate the store and its contents, I also went on a journey of exploring the historic roots of the Christian faith. More than once since those days, I have searched out Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as possibilities of getting to the bottom of the nature of authority within the church. Each time I have gained deeper appreciation for voices from earlier eras of the history of the church, while also returning to my Protestant roots stronger for the exploration.  Onsi A. Kamel offers an essay at First Things that echoed some aspects of my own search: “Catholicism had taught me to think like a Protestant, because, as it turned out, the Reformers had thought like catholics. Like their pope-aligned opponents, they had asked questions about justification, the authority of tradition, the mode of Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist, the nature of apostolic succession, and the Church’s wielding of the keys. Like their opponents, Protestants had appealed to Scripture and tradition. In time, I came to find their answers not only plausible, but more faithful to Scripture than the Catholic answers, and at least as well-represented in the traditions of the Church.”

 

Judgment Day Florence Cathedral“Is the ‘final judgment’ really final?” – It would be difficult to not hear some rumblings about David Bentley Hart’s new book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. Hart is a rough and tumble essayist and author, whose recent translation of the New Testament spurred a critical exchange between Hart and N. T. Wright, as well as some appreciative yet critical comments from Alan Jacobs about one of Hart’s bad intellectual habits. This latest book has already generated a lot of conversations, but is essentially an argument against the church’s reliance on a form of Augustine’s thinking and for a form of Gregory of Nyssa’s thinking on salvation and hell. The Christian Century provides this excerpt from Hart’s book for engagement. Douglas Farrow’s review in First Things is not all that appreciative of Hart’s thinking in the book, but engaging with Hart’s theological project at some level is necessary work for pastors and Christian leaders.

 

Willow Creek jd word cloud“Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?” – I have been on a journey of recovery in pastoral ministry for the last year or two. It has led me toward rediscovering what it means to be a pastor by listening to voices like Eugene Peterson and John Chrysostom, as well as exploring the dark side of leadership and what keeps ministry resilient. After serving within it for the past fifteen plus years, I am questioning nearly every aspect of non-denominational, evangelical, megachuch Christianity in North America. The flagship church for that is Willow Creek, who is now searching for a new Senior Pastor. I have some sadness for how Willow has taken so much flak in these days, but not enough sadness to avoid pointing out that most of the historically essential work of the pastor is really not present in the job description they have put forward for this role. Scot McKnight says it with much better clarity than me in this article.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“When Philip K. Dick turned to Christianity” – Most fans of science fiction know that the movies Blade Runner (1982) and the recent sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I was surprised to read this article in Salon a few months back about Dick’s turn toward Christianity shortly before his surge to fame within 1960s counterculture. While he didn’t stick with the church in its institutional form, his turn toward faith did, apparently, shape his later outlook and writings.

 

0_omPrFdurOKV3rsyv“A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone” – Those closest to me know that I’ve been on a multi-year journey to shed much of my closeness to my smartphone, some forms of technology, and social media. The most recent version of that is a project I affectionately call “the dumbest smartphone in the universe,” which is an attempt to radically simplify the apps available on my smartphone. Someday, maybe I’ll blog about it, but in the meantime read Ryan Holiday’s article which echoes many of the changes I’ve made.

 

William Blake“A blockbuster show at Tate Britain gives William Blake his due” – Two summers ago, my wife and I had the chance to get away to London for a week as part of celebrating twenty years of marriage. While there, we returned to places we had visited years ago when we both participated in a summer study program. Seeing works of revered artists in Tate Britain and Tate Modern was a highlight. While we saw many of William Blake’s drawings and etchings, this new show sounds like a delightful look at his work.

 

Music: Daniel Lanois, “The Maker,” from Acadie.

[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.]

Learning to Minister: John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood

The past year has been an interesting one for pastors in North America. A series of colossal moral failures from famous pastors is matched only by the rash of recent pastoral suicides. The heartbreak on one side and the outrage on the other leaves many pastors simultaneously sympathetic and disappointed. In that dark valley, pastors, too, search for answers to pressing questions. Why has this happened in our day and time? Is something devastatingly wrong with our models of ministry or conception of the church? At the most basic level, what is ministry really all about?  More personally, how can I make it as a pastor in this day and age?

In the midst of questions like these, we need sane guides for pastoral ministry in our current milieu. We need voices that can speak about the pastoral vocation with a clarity and sensibility that is hard to find. I confess that it is hard to find because there are not many pastors writing about pastoral ministry today. Don’t misunderstand me. There are pastors writing today, but, valuable as some of their writing is, most of it has very little to do with the ministry of the pastor.

To find sane guides for pastoral ministry, we will need to look elsewhere, to other times and places. For the last year or so I have been searching out those voices. One of those I recently listened to was St. John Chrysostom through his brief work entitled On the Priesthood. John Chrysostom, whose life stretched from 349-407, was the renowned Patriarch of Constantinople, dubbed “the golden mouth” for his power as a preacher. His writings take up six volumes of the first series of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (outmatched only by St. Augustine of Hippo’s eight volumes), mostly due to his extensive homilies on the Scripture.

His small work On the Priesthood is an apology for the serious nature of pastoral (or priestly) ministry, particularly elevation to the calling of the bishop. The book is structured around a dialogue between Chrysostom and his friend, Basil, based around an event centering on Basil and John’s election and forced ordination to the bishopric. While foreign to us, such a situation was more common in their time. John eludes elevation while Basil, thinking that John had given in to ordination, submits and becomes a bishop, only to find out later that John had avoided it entirely. Some scholars debate whether the dialogue structure and situation are historically true or a fictitious creation or literary device to discuss the heart of the book, which is all about “the pre-eminent dignity, and sanctity of the priestly officer and the peculiar difficulties and perils which beset it.”

While I have no desire to summarize it, one particularly interesting aspect of the book is just how much effort Chrysostom gives to describing reasons why someone might want to avoid pastoral ministry. Since the situation giving rise to the book is a justification for Chrysostom’s avoidance of forced ordination to the bishopric, he makes a strong case for how one might avoid the calling to ministry due to the difficulty and dangers of ministry, significant pressures of caring for the flock, the requirement of a excellence of spirit, and even love for Christ. If only we had more frequent mention of these warnings before entry to ministry today, we may have warded off some who entered ministry more for the sake of their own reputation or personal gain than for the sake of Christ.

When discussing the temptations that come upon the pastor, Chrysostom does not hold back. The minister is to be a person of high character with “a healthy, robust soul” (83). The minister must always be alert and attentive. “A priest must be sober and clear-sighted and possess a thousand eyes looking in every direction, for he lives, not for himself alone, but for a great multitude” (82). It is not merely the activities of ministry that are required of the minister, but deep attention to their own soul, for ministry will reveal all that we are  not just what we can do. “The priest’s shortcomings simply cannot be concealed. On the contrary, even the most trivial soon get known” (85).

Again, it is to the character of the pastor that Chrysostom returns again and again, even when discussing the necessary tasks of ministry, such as visiting widows or the sick, enforcing church discipline, and preaching. What sort of character should the pastor have?

Consider, then, what qualities a man needs if he is to withstand such a tempest and deal successfully with these obstacles to the common good. He must be dignified yet modest, impressive yet kindly, masterful yet approachable, impartial yet courteous, humble but not servile, vehement yet gentle, in order that he may be able calmly to resist all these dangers and to promote a suitable man with full authority, even though everyone opposes him, and reject an unsuitable man with equal authority, even though everyone favours him. One thing alone he must consider: the edification of the Church. (93)

Chrysostom holds up a weighty list that may feel overwhelming to pastors. But he does not stop there. He also holds up the eternal rewards and punishments for the pastor who does or does not undertake his ministry well, referencing more than once the words of the Apostle James: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

It is understandable that the book ends with significant attention to the ministry of the Word. This is a primary responsibility of the pastor, but also a primary interest for John Chrysostom himself, whose renown is largely linked with his powerful ministry of preaching. In another place on my blog, I shared a passage from Chrysostom’s call for the preacher to seek to please God more than pleasing humans, which is one example of his dual attention to the craft of preaching and the character of the preacher.

If you read this short work you will feel at times like it has arrived from another planet, whether due to the situation that gave rise to writing it, comments on women in the church, or other cultural uniquenesses. However, other passages come across just as relevant to our own day as if they were written by an astute pastor observing the struggles of the twenty-first century North American church in its crisis of ministry. As contemporary pastors, may God give us ears to hear the old voices, like that of St. John Chrysostom, echoing strong and sturdy with time-tested truths about pastoral ministry. And may we not only hear it, but heed it as we live out our calling in a confused time.