The Weekend Wanderer: 7 May 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.


128209“As Pastoral Credibility Erodes, How Can We Respond?” – Glenn Packiam in Christianity Today: “Pastors do not hold the place of community esteem they once did. According to Barna’s State of Pastors report (2017), only about one in five Americans thinks of a pastor as very influential in their community, and about one in four doesn’t think they’re very influential or influential at all. The truth is, influential or not, many Americans don’t want to hear what pastors have to say. In 2016, Barna found that only 21 percent of Americans consider pastors to be ‘very credible’ on the ‘important issues of our day.’ Even among those Barna defined as evangelicals, the number only rises to slightly over half. Think about it: Nearly half of American evangelicals don’t see their pastors as being an authoritative voice for navigating current affairs. In a new study Barna and I did in 2020 for my book The Resilient Pastor, we learned that the picture might be getting worse. Only 23 percent of Americans said they ‘definitely’ see a pastor as a ‘trustworthy source of wisdom.’ Even among Christians, that number only rises to a mere 31 percent. Less than a third of Christians said they ‘definitely’ consider a pastor a ‘trustworthy source of wisdom.’ As you might expect, a mere 4 percent of non-Christians think of pastors in this way. That’s a pretty bleak picture.”


Supreme Court view“Overturning Roe v. Wade inches us back toward the arc of justice” – Karen Swallow Prior at Religion New Service: “Everywhere I look today — social media, news outlets, my email — people are discussing the SCOTUS leak. As a pro-life activist my whole adult life, I never thought I’d live to see the end of Roe v. Wade, if that’s what this is. Yet for me and others who recognize children in the womb as human persons whose lives are deserving of legal protection, overturning Roe doesn’t go far enough. The end of Roe will not bring back the millions of lives lost, heal the women and men and families harmed, or repair the damage done to our nation and our political life. But it is a step in the right direction. I really didn’t expect to see Roe overturned in my lifetime, but I always hoped. I know we can do better than abortion for women and children — and if Roe is overturned, we will have more than ever both the opportunity and the obligation to do so. Roe v. Wade forced abortion on the nation by inventing a ‘right’ to abortion on demand that was novel, unprecedented and unfounded on any common understanding of human life and human dignity. The most bizarre mental and linguistic gymnastics developed around this newly constructed constitutional right in order to justify, rationalize and shield ourselves from the obvious fact that abortion unjustly ends the life of a human being.”


candlelight“The Perpetual Flame of Devotion: How can we learn to pray in a way that pleases God? And what stands in the way?” – Richard Foster in Plough Quarterly: “By means of prayer we are learning to burn the perpetual flame of devotion on the altar of God’s love. I say “learning” because there is nothing automatic or instantaneous about this way of praying. Now, three great movements characterize Christian prayer. Each is distinct from the others but overlaps and interacts with the others. The first movement in prayer involves our will in interaction and struggle with God’s will. We ask for what we need – or what we want. Often what we want exceeds what we need, and our wants can be easily influenced by ego and greed. Most certainly, a substantial part of our inner struggle in this movement involves our own human rebellion and self-centeredness. But not always. Think of Abraham struggling to offer up Isaac. Or think of Job struggling to relinquish all human attachments. Or think of Paul struggling with a “thorn in the flesh” and learning that God’s grace is sufficient for him and that God’s power is made perfect in weakness….In time, we come into a second movement in prayer: the release of our will and a flowing into the will of the Father. Here we are learning to walk with God day by day. We are learning the contours of God’s character. And we are learning simple love for Jesus. Finally, we find ourselves entering into the third movement, what the great ones in the way of Christ have called “union with God” and the bringing of the will of the Father upon the face of the earth. Here we learn not only to love God, but also to love God’s ways.”


A Jacobs - not a server“You Are Not a Server: Nor are you finalizable” – Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review: “That human beings understand themselves in terms of their dominant technologies has become a commonplace. Indeed, one could say that it was already a commonplace roughly 2,500 years ago, when the Psalmist wrote,

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

So it is natural and indeed inevitable that we today think of our brains as computers, even though that is an inaccurate and woefully inadequate model. But I would like to suggest that, because there are many kinds of computers that perform widely varied functions, we should be more specific. I believe that we have been trained by social media to use our brains as servers—as machines designed to receive requests and respond to them according to strict instructions.”


D27017 Alexis and Prof. Watt 3-31-22“Afghan refugees start a new journey at UWM” – We’re glad to be connected to this. Kathy Quirk in UWM Report: “As they waited in their bus at the airport in Kabul last August, Samira and her friends kept watch out the windows in case someone might be approaching the bus with a bomb. That was just one moment in a long, harrowing journey from Afghanistan to Milwaukee for a group of young women now enrolled in UW-Milwaukee’s Intensive English Program. (Because of the risk of retribution against family members who remain in Afghanistan, this story is using only their first names and photos that don’t show their faces.) The young women, mostly ages 18-23, are part of a group of 147 students from the Asian University for Women (AUW) who fled Afghanistan together. Following a stay at Fort McCoy, a group of eight started class at UWM in January. Samira, the ninth young woman, is the sister of one of the UWM students. She is taking classes remotely at Arizona State University, but is thinking of doing graduate work at UWM. The younger students hope to stay and continue their undergraduate work at the university in the fall.”


Francis and Kirill“Pope Francis warns pro-war Russian patriarch not to be ‘Putin’s altar boy'” – Delia Gallagher at CNN: “Pope Francis warned the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, not to become “Putin’s altar boy,” he said in an interview this week. In his strongest words to date against the pro-war Patriarch, Francis also slammed Kirill for endorsing Russia’s stated reasons for invading Ukraine. ‘I spoke to him for 40 minutes via Zoom,’ the Pope told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Tuesday. ‘The first 20 minutes he read to me, with a card in hand, all the justifications for war. I listened and told him: I don’t understand anything about this,” said the Pope. ‘Brother, we are not clerics of state, we cannot use the language of politics but that of Jesus. The Patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy,’ the Pope said. Francis said the conference call with Kirill took place on March 16, and that both he and the Patriarch had agreed to postpone a planned meeting on June 14 in Jerusalem.”


03.27-2-Men-Fishing“The New Testament Picture of Discipleship” – Dallas Willard at Renovare: “Evangelicalism always looks to the Bible as the point of reference from which concepts are defined, practices legitimated, and principles adopted. So we must ask what can be made of discipleship and of the disciple of Jesus as seen in the life of the New Testament. Indeed, as it turns out, the New Testament ​disciple’ is by no means a peculiarly ​’Christian’ innovation. The disciple is one aspect of the progressive and massive decentralization of Judaism that began with the destruction of the first Temple (588 BC) and the Babylonian exile, and proceeds through the dispersal of the Jewish people among the nations that followed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. During this period the synagogue emerges as the center of the local Jewish communities, devotion to the Torah becomes the focus of the synagogue, and the rabbi or ​’great one’ stood forth in the role of interpreter of Torah: ‘By degrees, attachment to the law sank deeper and deeper into the national character…. Hence the law became a deep and intricate study. Certain men rose to acknowledged eminence for their ingenuity in explaining, their readiness in applying, their facility in quoting, and their clearness in offering solutions of, the difficult passages of the written statutes.’ The rabbi with his coterie of special students was a familiar feature of Jewish religious practice by the time of Jesus.”


Music: Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast,” from Steadfast (Live).

The Weekend Wanderer: 23 April 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

Finding Our Way Back with Christ: Four pathways for preaching Lent

I recently wrote an article for Preaching Today on approaches to preaching during Lent. I explore the following ways to preach Lent:

  • A Call to Repentance
  • Facing into the Darkness of Human Experience
  • Journey through the Longings of the Human Heart
  • Follow the Journey of Jesus

This is a parallel article to my “Recovering the Wonder of Christmas: Four pathways for preaching during Advent.” Both of these articles on preaching during seasons of the Christian year flow out of my earlier article “Time Touching Eternity: Preaching through the Christian Year.”

While it is behind a paywall, you can read the entire article here. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

Several years ago, our family traveled by road from our home in the Midwest to Montreal and Quebec City. While we enjoyed seeing the new sights, including road signs and business names written in French, navigating the roads was a challenge at times. On our way to explore the city of Montreal, I followed the GPS navigation, taking a sharp turn through a construction zone only to suddenly discover I was driving the wrong direction on a one-way road. After a few sharp exclamations and some evasive maneuvers, we turned around and made our way safely to our final destination.

Sometimes when we get turned around in life. It can happen through quick decisions that dramatically turn us around or through slow and almost imperceptible changes that lead us off-course. When this occurs, we need to take action, reorient ourselves, and get back on track. Unfortunately, we do not always know how to do this, what action we should take, or what direction we should follow.

In the spiritual life, the Christian year is a resource to help us take action and find our way back on course. With steady attention on the life of Christ and framed within the story of the church, the Christian year literally forms our days around Christ’s days through a series of seasons and celebrations.[1] In a more focused way, the season of Lent dramatically reorients us around Jesus’ journey to the Cross with a forty-day period (not including Sundays) of preparation, beginning with Ash Wednesday and culminating in the Passion or Holy Week.

This journey echoes the forty-year journey of Israel to the Promised Land and Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness, intending to lead us into deeper engagement with God. We turn from ourselves and turn to God. We repent of sin, lament our brokenness, and enter the fires of refining. This extended journey allows us to enter slow time with Christ and his suffering before we leap into our celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations see how lost we are and how much we need Jesus. Our preaching offers a reorientation, new direction, and the way to get back on track by God’s grace with Jesus as the center.

I am going to offer us four pathways for preaching in Lent so that our congregations can find their way back through Christ.

Metaphors for Ministry: Hitting ‘The Road’ with Cormac McCarthy

An article I wrote during the past year was published this week at Preaching Today. It draws from one of my favorite novels of all time, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. If you know McCarthy’s writing, you may know it is very rough around the edges. While The Road is also rough around the edges there is also a tenderness and grace sprinkled amidst the troubles. Because of this, it has been such a balm for my soul in these past few years. I wrote about that, and here is the first section of “Metaphors for Ministry: Hitting The Road with Cormac McCarthy” (you can read the rest here).

When a friend felt forced to resign from his church, he and I met up to talk, pray, shoulder burdens together, and cry out to God. I arrived a little early, so before I met him for brunch, I did what I always do when I have extra time. I stopped at a used bookstore. In the dollar discards was a dog-eared and stained mass paperback copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road. I picked it up with a few other treasures and headed to the restaurant where we were meeting. We talked about deep pain and fiery hope, works of love and moments of failure. Our conversation roamed the whole range of pastoring within the local church.

After our time of conversation and prayer, as we headed to our cars, I knew it would be a long time until I would see him. I gave him a hug and then handed him the roughed up copy of The Road. I hoped, somehow, this worn out copy of the book might breathe life into his worn out life and broken down ministry.

My friend isn’t the only casualty of ministry in these divided and confusing days. Many pastors I have met are struggling with what it means to be a pastor now, wondering where we should turn for guidance in these times. Scripture and the great pastoral tradition provide the best and first resources, but in times when ministry is unclear, we need other voices to help us gain perspective and see rich metaphors for ministry.

While I am wary of misusing a literary work, I cannot think of any novel more appropriate as a parable for pastors in this present moment than The Road.[1]Against the background of an ashen, decayed world, burned out by an unnamed disaster, a father and son (referred to only as “the man” and “the boy”) walk a road littered with danger and goodness toward a hoped-for, yet unclear, destination.

As pastors today, our situation is similar. Everything we understood as normal is a faint memory in this post-pandemic secular age. Still, we are on a journey through dangerous lands, holding onto hope and goodness amid the perils we face. The Road offers us metaphors for ministry as we seek to shepherd our people with love even in desperate times.

Cormac McCarthy may seem like a strange author to turn to in such times. His spare yet powerful writing is often dark and grotesque. Still, McCarthy’s novels are haunted by some divine presence, even if his views are far from orthodox Christianity. In an interview McCarthy once said, “I don’t think you have to have a clear idea of who or what God is in order to pray.”[2] Throughout The Road, the father invokes God, sometimes in angst and other times in hope. This tension with the divine offers fertile ground for exploring echoes of pastoral work in the novel.

Calling for Apocalyptic Pastors: a word from Eugene Peterson

saint-john-on-the-island-of-patmos-receives-inspiration-from-god-to-create-the-apocalypse-albrecht-durer-or-duerer

Eugene Peterson, in the midst of writing on four models of pastoral ministry, offers one he says he has always aimed to be like: the apocalyptic pastor. It is a wild phrase but a needful word for us today as pastors in the North American church. May we have ears to hear.

American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition. None of these marks is remotely biblical. None is faintly in evidence in the gospel story. All of them are thoroughly documented diseases of the spirit. Pastors are in great danger of being undetected carriers of the very disease we are charged to diagnose and heal. We need the most powerful of prophylactics — something like the apocalyptic prayer and poetry and patience of St. John.

From The Contemplative Pastor, p. 49, but also available electronically here.