The Weekend Wanderer: 6 May 2023

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

aging clergy“One in Four Pastors Plan to Retire Before 2030” – David Roach in Christianity Today: “Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, has gotten serious about raising up a new generation of pastors. Normally, the congregation produces one or two young people every couple of years who feel a call. Right now, however, 12 young men are preparing to enter pastoral ministry. Ted Traylor, who has led the church for 33 years, meets with them weekly. ‘You’ve got to get old and see that you’ve got to have someone else coming,’ Traylor said with a laugh. ‘I really do laugh at that, but it was a reality in my life. I’m now 69 years old, and I take a greater responsibility for the coming generation.’ Research released this month from the Barna Group suggests more baby boomer pastors need to follow suit. America’s churches are struggling to find a new generation of pastors as the current generation prepares to step aside, according to the research. The graying of America’s pastors isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has become more pronounced. In 2022, just 16 percent of Protestant senior pastors were 40 years old or younger. The average age of a pastor is 52. Thirty years ago, 33 percent of US pastors were under 40, and the median age was 44.”

Shepherding from the Margins“Shepherding from the Margins: The Black Preacher and White Supremacy” – John C. Richards at IVI: “The Black pulpit poses the greatest threat to White supremacy and racism in America. From its inception, the Black pulpit was forged in the thick boscage of silent sanctuaries surrounding Southern plantations. Hush harbors were homiletical havens for men and women of faith to proclaim faith in the God of the oppressed. This sacred space has long been a symbol of resistance to oppression and served as the platform for the preached word to a people who found themselves sojourners in a strange land. And standing tall in pulpits across America through the years has been the Black preacher—serving as the moral compass in a culture that continues to lose its true north. The Black preacher has always stared White supremacy in its face and proclaimed it out of step with the Gospel of Christ.¹ Despite these truths, the Black prophetic preaching tradition has historically teetered on the scales of anonymity and lived in the academic and cultural margins. As Wake Forest University School of Divinity Dean Jonathan Walton notes in Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism: ‘For a race of people who suffered 244 years of chattel slavery, another century of legalized racial apartheid, and the continued vestiges of white supremacy on this nation’s soil, joining the mainstream has proven to be an elusive and illusory goal.’ And the goal of Black preaching all along wasn’t to join the mainstream. It was to stand outside the fray and declare what thus saith the Lord. The oral tradition of Black preaching served as the only means to confront racial injustices short of armed resistance. Living in the margins has led to many unfair and unhelpful presuppositions about the Black preaching tradition. Disingenuous caricatures in mainstream culture often mischaracterize Black preaching. Those caricatures ignore Black preaching’s long history of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Both the academy and culture are responsible for these unhelpful caricatures. It is our responsibility to stand and offer a helpful corrective.”

86bdb4b6-de60-42ac-b88d-6c62f157ad19-MEMORIAL_CLEVELAND_TX.jpg“Gun violence from Texas to Nashville should call Americans to prayer − and to action” – Daniel Darling in USA Today: “On Friday night near Cleveland, Texas, police say, a man with an AR-15 shot to death five of his neighbors, including a 9-year-old boy. On Monday afternoon, police found seven people dead, including two missing teenage girls, at a home in the small town of Henryetta, Oklahoma. As a nation, we are only weeks removed from the shooting at a church school in Nashville, Tennessee and the shooting at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky. And those are only crimes that have captured national attention. In cities across the country, citizens live in fear of their lives, besieged by violence on the streets and in homes, workplaces, schools and churches. The Covenant School shooting in Nashville was personal for our family. We lived in Nashville for 10 years and love that growing metro with a small-town heart. A dear friend’s children attend Covenant School. A colleague at Texas Baptist College, affiliated with the seminary where I work, lost a nephew. And my wife was part of a prayer group of moms that included the Covenant pastor’s wife. It’s hard to comprehend the depravity that motivates someone to gun down people in cold blood. For every shooting, there are survivors whose lives will never be the same. Just read this haunting profile of the victims of the Sulphur Springs, Texas shooting from five years ago. Unfortunately, after every mass shooting there is a predictable cycle where Democrats and Republicans blame each other, scoring quick rhetorical points that offer political catharsis but few solutions. The exception was the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which resulted in bipartisan federal legislation that included funding for mental health, funding for state red flag laws, tightening laws on gun trafficking, funding for existing school safety programs and a few other laws tightening gun purchases. But clearly, we have more work to do to reduce incidents of violence and to make our communities safe. I’m a conservative, but I recognize that this multi-layered, complicated epidemic will require both political parties to work together.”

1be84bdb-a61c-4012-92c4-1f28534d558f_1000x750“The Universal & Neon God: Four Questions Concerning The Internet – part one” and “Neon God: Four Questions Concerning The Internet – part two” – Paul Kingsnorth at The Abbey of Misrule: “The Internet and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. This is an extreme statement, but I’m in an extreme mood. If I had the energy, I suppose I could fill a hundred pages trying to prove it. I could write about what online reading has done to concentration spans, what smartphone use has done to social mores, how the brains of young children have been rewired by tablets and screens. I could write about social credit systems or facial scans or vaccine passports or online porn or cyber-bullying or cobalt mines or the decline of journalism or the death of the high street. So much content is on offer – and it’s all free! Still, what would be the point? Whole books have been written already, and by now you either agree or you don’t. And nothing I can say here would be anything like as extreme as the impact that the digital revolution has had on our cultures, minds and souls in just a few short years. Everything has changed, and yet the real changes are only just beginning. By the time they are finished, unless we pay attention, we may barely be human at all. So I won’t try to prove anything. Instead I will devote this essay to asking a question that has stalked me for years. It’s such a big question, in fact, that I am breaking this already long essay into two parts, and dividing the question itself into four smaller inquiries, in the hope that this way it will be more digestible, to me if no-one else. What I want to know is this: what force lies behind the screens and wires of the web in which we are now entangled like so many struggling flies, and how we can break free of it. In short: What is this thing? And how should it be faced?”

64525ca2ae6f543d95facc51_IMG_0057“Like Hair in a Biscuit” – Fred Smith in The Round Table: “The Kentucky River winds past Port Royal in Henry County and Wendell’s farm before it empties into the Ohio River below Cincinnati where I grew up. It was downstream in my life when I was first introduced to Wendell’s work and without our ever meeting in person his work has been a part of my life and work ever since. All of us have origins or we can call them headwaters. We come from someplace. We have a place of beginning. It may be a spot on a map or something that from the start has defined the way we look at life. I think Wendell’s headwater is love. Not the romantic or always changing love we associate with falling or being in love. It is the enduring love people share over a lifetime with all of their glory and foibles. It is the love of a particular place. It is the love of a patch of land and the love that is grateful and accepts responsibility for the gifts of nature. It is the love of clarity. It is not flighty or fickle but what Wendell has called competent love. The love that comes from knowing a piece of land, a person or a craft. ‘It is love that leads us toward particular knowledge, and it helps us to learn what we need to know. It leads us toward vocation, the work we truly want to do, are born to do, and therefore must learn to do well. I am talking about the hardworking familial and neighborly love that commits itself and hangs on like hair in a biscuit. This is love that can be enacted, whether or not it is felt.’ From love flows the sense of belonging.”

Oakes - Practice the Pause“Caroline Oakes – Practice the Pause [Feature Review]” – Christopher Brown in The Englewood Review of Books: “‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’ (Mark 1:35). The notion that Christians should imitate Jesus’ practices of prayer is not new, but Caroline Oakes has uncovered new depths of significance and possibility in that imitation. Oakes’ book Practice the Pause: Jesus’ Contemplative Practice, New Brain Science, and What it Means to Be Fully Human suggests that Jesus’ own prayer life formed his fully human brain to make him the enemy-loving, wisdom-teaching rabbi he was. Now science is confirming what ancient monks also taught: We, too, can cultivate this “mind of Christ” today by pausing regularly to practice contemplative prayer. For readers who are already familiar with contemplative practices such as Centering Prayer, the new contribution to be found in Practice the Pause is the highly accessible presentation of scientific research on what happens in the brain during prayer and meditation. Part Two of the book teaches readers about the anatomy of our brains, the concept of neuroplasticity, and the internal workings of our instinctive ‘fight or flight’ response. While the amygdala controls many of our instinctive desires and behaviors, the neocortex is the portion of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions including social awareness and impulse control. The perception of danger or conflict shifts us out of our neocortex and into the instinctive reactivity of the amygdala, resulting in what’s often our least Christ-like behavior. But there’s hope. As Oakes says, the research shows that ‘an intentional contemplative practice of even short duration can significantly rewire the brain in ways that develop new prefrontal cortex neural patterns, which slow down the mechanisms that cause the amygdala to fully activate the fight/flight response’ (49, emphasis original). In other words, prayer and meditation literally build stronger connections between these portions of our brains, giving us more control over our reactions.”

Music: Rich Mullins, “Here in America,” from A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 April 2023

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

theory of change“The Cure of Souls: Theory of Change in Christian Ministry” – Simeon Zahl at Mockingbird: “What is the relationship between theology and day-to-day Christian ministry? I’ve been reflecting on this question for over twenty years, and I’ve become convinced that few questions are more important, either for theologians or for the church. To start, we need to recognize that every ministry makes basic theological assumptions about human nature and about how God works in people’s lives. In more theological terms, you could say that every form of ministry has an implicit theological anthropology and an implicit theology of grace. These assumptions are not always conscious or clearly articulated, but they have huge effects on pastoral practice — and on Christian experience. Indeed, I am convinced that few things have a greater effect on the success or failure of a ministry than these theological assumptions. To explain what I mean, let me borrow a term from the world of philanthropy and development. My wife Bonnie works in philanthropy, and over the past few years I became struck by a term she often uses in her work: theory of change. What is ‘theory of change’? Basically, it’s the strategy that an organization uses when it wants to make some change in the world through its activities. Asking an organization about its theory of change is a way of getting it to articulate more explicitly (a) what outcome the organization wants to achieve in the world, (b) what strategy it is going to use to accomplish that outcome, and (c) what assumptions the organization is making that lead it to think that strategy X will result in outcome Y. The whole idea of ‘theory of change’ emerged as a term when people who consult with organizations realized that human beings are bad at doing this. We do X in hopes that Y will happen, but amazingly often we don’t think through how strategy X will plausibly lead to outcome Y. Having a ‘theory of change’ forces you to think the steps through and to realize where you are making weird or implausible assumptions, so you can then alter your strategy to make it more effective. I realize that may all seem very abstract and, let’s face it, more like something you would learn in business school than in a theology department. But over the past few years I’ve found it to be a helpful way of thinking about the relationship between theology and ministry. Let me give a few examples from the life of the church.”

sudan-khartoum-civil-war“Humanitarian project work suspended in Sudan as Christian agencies evacuate staff” – In Premier Christian News: “Continuing fighting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum has led aid agencies to suspend their work and for governments to hasten their plans to evacuate foreign nations. The British government estimates that even before the current outbreak of violence, over 15.8 million people were in need of assistance. With heavy artillery and air bombardment affecting civilians in built-up areas, Relief International personnel and three World Food Programme (WFP) staff members have been killed, according to the FCDO. The WFP has now suspended operations. ‘Aid agencies aren’t able to get unhindered access,’ former Africa minister Vicky Ford MP told Premier Christian News. ‘They can’t deliver life-saving assistance and people desperately need that assistance,’ she added. Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organisation, has relocated its staff based in the capital, with seventeen staff members, including four Americans, moved to safety outside the immediate conflict zone. With a request to Premier supporters to ‘Please pray for peace in Sudan,’ Samaritan’s Purse said they had been ‘working in Sudan since 1993, helping hundreds of thousands of people by setting up hospitals, opening schools, distributing food, providing agricultural supplies, and rebuilding hundreds of churches that were destroyed during the civil war.’ Conservative MP Vicky Ford is Chair of the APPG on Sudan in Westminster and also urged Premier: ‘Please, people, please, first of all, will you pray for a ceasefire, pray for the weapons to be put down. And for people to start talking again.’

“Once One People of One Book” – Thomas S. Kidd reviews Mark Noll’s America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911 in Religion and Liberty: “Mark A. Noll, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, is among the most prolific and accomplished historians of American religion ever. I once imagined that the 2002 book America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln was Noll’s magnum opus. With the recent appearance of America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911, I am no longer sure whether to view America’s God as a standalone volume or as a sort of companion to America’s Book. In any case, Noll has shown himself capable of extending and even accelerating his scholarly output well into his 70s. Noll has the proverbial fire in his bones; he can’t suppress his desire to understand the complex relationship between Christianity and American history. A more recent companion volume in Noll’s vast corpus is In the Beginning Was the Word, his 2015 history of the Bible in colonial and revolutionary America. But that book (comparatively slender at 431 pages, compared to 846 for America’s Book and 622 for America’s God) now seems more like a prelude to America’s Book. In the Beginning explained how the Bible became a distinctly American volume, which readers approached through the lenses of republican ideology and commonsense literalism. Not coincidentally, these intellectual trends profoundly shaped the Revolution, too. America’s God, as its subtitle (“from Edwards to Lincoln”) suggests, covered the same chronological range as In the Beginning and America’s Book. But America’s God was more of an intellectual history of theologians and politicians than America’s Book is. I expected Noll to cover a lot of the same ground in America’s Bookas he did in America’s God, and he does so to a certain extent. But America’s Book is more of a social and cultural history of the “rise and decline” of America’s “Bible civilization” than a tracing of elite theologians’ ideas about the Bible and America. Having established the “Christian republicanism” argument of America’s God, Noll examines the on-the-ground fate of that idea in America’s Book. Both books (like all of Noll’s works) fully reward close readings.”

ea2023f8eda5a1be28bddbcbe6e584c8“Church leader is finally buried” – In Christian Solidarity Worldwide News: “Pastor Tesfay Seyoum, the founder and leader of Meserete Kristos Church who died on 9 April and was denied a burial place in his home area due to his religious beliefs, was finally buried on 22 April. Pastor Seyoum was laid to rest at 5pm in St. Teklehaymanot Cemetery in the HazHaz suburb in the north of Asmara. He had been detained in Mai Serwa prison near the capital, Asmara, for ten years, but had recently suffered a brain haemorrhage. The pastor was sent to hospital for treatment, but died two months later, leaving behind his wife and daughter. According to a CSW source, Eritreans are traditionally buried in their home areas. Consequently, following his death, Pastor Seyoum’s body was taken to his house in the Godaif neighbourhood, his home area in the south of Asmara, in preparation for burial. However, permission for a site was denied, reportedly by officials and members of the local community, on account of his Evangelical beliefs. In a departure from traditional norms which require a body to be buried as close to the time of death as possible, the pastor’s remains lay unburied for 13 days, occasioning distress for his family, friends and congregation.”

violin“Filth Therapy: A Cunning Word: A question in the novels of Robertson Davies: What ways of Wisdom have been discarded by modern Knowledge?” – Alan Jacobs in Comment: “Long ago every village in England had a cunning man, or woman—an untrained but intuitive healer, a person with a good nose for other people’s troubles and a tactical shrewdness about how to handle them. If your problems were simple and obvious, if you needed a broken bone set or a bad tooth pulled, you’d go to the surgeon. Everyone knew that. But what if you weren’t quite sure what was wrong with you? What if your spirit was troubled but also your digestion, and you didn’t know which was causing which, or if they were separate miseries? Then you needed to consult the cunning ones. The Cunning Man is the last novel by the great Canadian writer Robertson Davies, and its titular figure is a man of the late twentieth century named Jonathan Hullah, who grew up in a remote outpost in northern Ontario and got his first ideas about healing by hanging around with Elsie Smoke, an Ojibwa herbalist and healer, a ‘wise woman’—a cunning woman. Hullah ultimately becomes a doctor and a practitioner of what some now call ‘holistic medicine,’ though that term is not used in the book by Hullah or anyone else. Hullah thinks of himself as a disciple of the great Renaissance physician Paracelsus— the first person to theorize that physical disease can be the product of what we now would call psychological distress. As Hullah comments, ‘The problem for a Paracelsian physician like me is that I see diseases as disguises in which people present me with their wretchedness.’ It is a problem because people are happy to speak of their diseases but reluctant to acknowledge their wretchedness. Hullah’s creator almost certainly learned about Paracelsus through reading Carl Jung, who was perhaps the most important guiding figure of Davies’s intellectual and religious life. From my point of view, which is that of a generally orthodox Christian, Davies’s embrace of Jungian ideas is a convenient way to get all the benefits of belief in transcendent order with none of the obligations of obedience to a personal God. Nevertheless, there is much in Davies’s picture of the cunning man—and in closely related ideas that he developed in the latter part of his career as a novelist—from which thinking Christians can and should learn. Above all, I think, we should adopt a kind of historically aware intellectual pluralism, a willingness to learn from and make use of the past, and especially those elements of the past that have been discarded by modernity as refuse and waste. The thoughtful Christian should be a cunning practitioner of filth therapy.”

“The Origins of the English Parish” – Micah Mattix in Prufrock: “I have been reading through Nicholas Orme’s Going to Church in Medieval England, and it is one of the best works of history I have picked up in the past ten years. It is full of lots of little details that bring churchgoing to life, which Orme somehow manages to organize into a coherent story. I was particularly interested in the section on the formation of parishes since I have been thinking about T. S. Eliot’s defense of the parish as the foundational unit of a flourishing Christian society in The Idea of a Christian Society. Orme makes a couple of interesting observations about the parish. First, a single church—a minster—initially covered a very large area, making regular churchgoing impossible for most English people. Weddings and funerals didn’t regularly take place in a church until the middle of the tenth century. But as smaller communities grew, and craftsmanship and writing became more available in rural communities, smaller churches were planted in these communities, often at the request and expense of local landowners…For Eliot, the parish is a community unit that was not ‘solely religious and not solely social . . . in which all classes, if you have classes, have their center of interest.’ What parish does, according to Eliot, is bring different classes together—a touchstone of civilization—in a single place with shared interests”

Music: Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Conversion,” from Texas Sun EP

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 April 2023

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

Eugene_Delacroix_Lagonie_dans_le_jardin_1861_Rijksmuseum_Amsterdam-1536x768“The Transfiguration in the Garden of Gethsemane” – Jason Micheli at Mockingbird: “Every year during Passover week, Jerusalem would be filled with approximately 200,000 Jewish pilgrims. Nearly all of them, like Jesus and his friends and family, would’ve been poor. Throughout that holy week, these hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would gather at table and temple and they would remember. They would remember how they’d once suffered bondage under another empire, and how God had heard their outrage and sent someone to save them. They would remember how God had promised them, ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.’ Always. They would remember how with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God had delivered them from a Caesar called Pharaoh. Passover was a political powder keg, so every year Pontius Pilate would do his damnedest to keep Passover in the past tense. At the beginning of Passover week, Pilate would journey from his seaport home in the west to Jerusalem, escorted by a military triumph, a shock-and-awe storm-trooping parade of horses and chariots and troops armed to the teeth and prisoners bound hand and foot. All of it led by imperial banners that dared as much as declared ‘Caesar is Lord.’ So when Jesus, at the beginning of that same week, rides into Jerusalem from the opposite direction there could be no mistaking what to expect next. Deliverance from enemies. Defeat of them. Freedom. Exodus from slavery. How could there be any mistaking, any confusing, when Jesus chooses to ride into town — on a donkey, exactly the way the prophet Zechariah had foretold that Israel’s King would return to them. Triumphant and victorious, just before he crushes their enemies. There could be no mistaking what to expect next. That’s why they shout ‘Hosanna! Save us!’ and wave palm branches as they do every year for the festival of Sukkot, another holy day in the fall when they recalled their exodus from Egypt into the wilderness and prayed for God to send them a Messiah. The only reason to shout Hosanna during Passover instead of Sukkot is if you believed that the Messiah for whom you have prayed has arrived. There could no mistaking what to expect next.”

ritual“I Met God on the Mountaintop of Ritual: How liturgy can lead to an encounter with the Lord.” – Esau McCaulley in Christianity Today: “As someone who came from outside the liturgical expressions of Christianity, I had a certain suspicion of the whole enterprise. I thought the liturgical tradition, with its vestments, rituals, rules, and customs, was the very thing Jesus had come to destroy. I intuited that what God wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He owned the cattle on a thousand hills; he didn’t need our formalized prayers and spiritual sacrifices. The heroes in my mind were characters like David, who danced informally before God (2 Sam. 6:14), and the prophets, whose ministry was led from start to finish by the Spirit (1 Kings 18:12). The liturgical life seemed, from the outside, to stifle the Spirit. In my developing religious sensibilities, inherited from the Free Church Protestantism of my youth, the legalists Paul battled in Galatia had morphed into modern ritualistic Christians. Jesus wanted prayers from my heart that revealed my own wrestling with God, not the repeated words of those long dead. God was, of course, on the side of the informalists and against the formalists. In the language that became omnipresent during my college years, it wasn’t about religion but relationship. Religion was shorthand for any ritual activity I was uncomfortable with. Here, I want to approach the liturgy from a different perspective. I do not wish to engage in debates about particular texts of the Bible. I want instead to zoom out and look at the nature of the Old and New Testaments themselves. I want to press in on the method by which God forms a people. When God revealed himself to a spiritually malnourished group who needed to be taught the things required for holiness, what did he do? How did God do it? He gave his people rituals. He gave them feasts tied to certain parts of the year and a system of sacrifice to teach his ways to coming generations.”

1000“Pastors: Palm Sunday a balm after Nashville school shooting” – Holly Meyer in The Associated Press: “It’s Palm Sunday, and across the greater Nashville, Tennessee, region, many Christians headed to worship services grief-stricken and hurting for the lives stolen too soon in The Covenant School shooting. Their heartsick pastors sought to bring comfort to those seeking answers to unanswerable questions after a heavily armed assailant turned a regular day into a horror story for the private, Christian grade school in Nashville. ‘If a week like this teaches me anything, it’s that today is the day to believe,’ senior pastor Scott Sauls told his congregation at Christ Presbyterian Church which is hosting funerals for three of the six victims.. ‘None of us is guaranteed tomorrow, let alone the next hour,’ Sauls said. ‘The only comfort that exists in life and in death, for body and soul, is that we belong to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.’ The promise of the gospel doesn’t diminish the pain and the grief, Sauls added. And he acknowledged that scripture is limited when it comes to answering the question of why: ‘Why this child? Why this beloved educator and wife and mother and grandmother?’ On the first Sunday after the attack — and the start of Christianity’s most sobering and sacred week — the tragedy could not and should not be avoided, said Pastor George Grant, a local Presbyterian leader with ties to the school and the adjoining Covenant Presbyterian Church.”

God Speaks Through Wombs“God Speaks Through Wombs: Drew Jackson on Poems Birthed Out of the Gospel of Luke”Christians for Social Action interviews Drew Jackson on his recent book of poetry: We spoke with pastor and poet Drew Jackson about his latest work, God Speaks Through Wombs, a collection of poems that traverses the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Drew is the founding pastor of Hope East Village in New York City and writes poetry at the intersection of justice, peace, and contemplation, with a passion to contribute toward a more just and whole world. Listen to Drew read one of his poems.

Why did you title this “God Speaks Through Wombs?”

The title comes from one of the poems in the book, which is a reflection on the story of Elizabeth hearing the news that she will be giving birth to John the Baptist. Elizabeth was a person who, because of her barrenness and her old age, would have been marginalized in that society, but God chooses to break into history, to speak and to act, through her. As I say in the poem: ‘In the days of empires / and puppet regimes / God speaks.'”…This is a theme that Luke carries throughout his Gospel—God’s choice to speak, move, and act in history through those that society has marginalized and oppressed.”

re-thinking-success-tc“Re-thinking Success” – Ruth Haley Barton in Beyond Words: “Recently I read a letter that I have not been able to get off my mind.  It was written by a pastor to the editor of a Christian magazine and it said, ‘I retired a year ago from one of several consecutive positions as associate or senior pastor.  I retired not because I didn’t love the people, the missions, the act of preaching and the way weekly preaching shaped me…No, it was because I was never able to navigate through the expectations of my church, both at the local level and from the hierarchy, that I would attract more and more money and bring in more and more members. By the time I decided to retire, these two components of ministry became the only validations of effective ministry in my denomination.  Conducting ministry by such a method was mind-numbing and soul-draining.  I tried my best, and in the end I left.  Today I guest preach and lead retreats only occasionally.  Mostly I spend my time in utter joy, compiling my journal entries and letters from my first year as a solo pastor in England.  At long last, I have time to reflect.’ This pastor is not alone in the experience of being driven from ministry by false measures of success. In Pastors at Greater Risk, H.B. London Jr. and Dr. Neil B. Wiseman state that 45.5% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. It would be naive to think that this large percentage does not include some of the brightest, most inspiring pastors in the country. Not surprisingly, several of the top reasons pastors leave ministry too soon have to do with discouragement and a sense of failure around how they measure success, how they compare themselves to other pastors and ministries, and how those around them measure success and critique them on that basis.” 

19374db1-d46f-47c2-9d31-58bb7e9a03d9_875x1024“It’s unloving to quickly restore fallen pastors” – Katelyn Beaty in The Beaty Beat: “On September 27, 2022, Religion & Politics published an essay of mine on why evangelicals love redemption stories. Reflecting on fallen Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz, I wrote:

As for Carl and Laura Lentz, I’m not a betting woman, and I can’t speak to their personal lives or transformation off the screen and the stage. But I’ve seen enough to wager that Carl will announce a return to church ministry within six months, and that he and/or Laura will announce a book detailing their experience within a year.

Then, on March 28, 2023 — six months to the day — Religion News Service reported that Lentz would be joining the staff of Transformation, a nondenominational megachurch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, led by pastor Michael Todd. Maybe I need to spend a weekend in Atlantic City. Gambling jokes aside (I have been to Las Vegas once, with my parents; we spent a lot of time birdwatching in the desert), it brings me no joy to see disgraced pastors return to church ministry, when church ministry was the context that likely spurred their downfall in the first place. When people of faith raise concerns about disqualified leaders returning to ministry, it can seem mean-spirited or hard of heart. Christians, of all people, are to be gracious and quick to forgive, since we believe God has extended immeasurable grace to us in the person of Christ. Everyone deserves a second chance. No one is the sum of their darkest moments. God is in the business of redeeming lives. And so on. But redemption is not the same as restoration to church leadership. Personal transformation is different from public responsibility. And it’s not loving to quickly* bring a fellow Christian back to the spotlight, when it’s the spotlight that quickened their fall from grace in the first place. (*I’ll get to questions of timing shortly.)”

Music: Puchi Colón, “Everlasting God (Eterno Dios)” (Latin Arrangement)

The Weekend Wanderer: 25 March 2023

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

1*IwPK78lLbKgZbDx-Asl3ZQ“The Well at the End of the World” – Kenneth Tanner: “Jesus is tired and thirsty, not only from walking since daybreak but from the sun’s full strength at noon. The One who made the sun and all stars, now sweats and is parched. The One who faints not, who never grows weary, needs a breather. And he continues to thirst until everyone and everything is reconciled to God. The fastest way home to Galilee from Jerusalem runs straight through a town in Samaria, right by the land and the well of his ancestor Jacob. His feet dusty and sore from the road, Jesus sits down on the well. Wherever there’s water in the universe, he is its source and yet at Jacob’s well he has no means to get to its subterranean flow, some 100 feet down and fed by a spring. The rabbis talk in the Targums of a time when Jacob rolled away the stone that capped this well and it geysered water for twenty years but now you need a skin and a long rope to get the water to your lips. A woman approaches the well with a large pitcher on her shoulder and when she arrives, Jesus asks her for a drink. There are layers of complication around this meeting, this moment, and this request for water.”

042023-autism-church“Five ways your church might already welcome autistic adults” – Victoria Wick in The Christian Century: “My first year serving as a full-time pastor was also the year I was diagnosed with autism. I was 28. Pandemic burnout sent me on a search for mental health support—a search that ultimately led to the discovery that I’m neurodivergent, a nonmedical umbrella term that encompasses those whose brains work differently than most. Autism is one form of neurodivergence. I was surprised that someone could be an autist their whole life and not even realize it. I’ve since learned that there’s a good reason for that: most of the existing research on autism was conducted with preschool-age boys, but autism in girls—not to mention adult women—looks very different. Neurodivergent girls often face more pressure than their male peers to socially conform throughout their development. Many autistic girls learn to mask autistic traits so well that even we don’t realize we’re navigating more challenges than our non-autist peers. But once I learned I was autistic, I made more sense to myself—my love of ritual and routine, my special interest in words, my near-constant analysis of social dynamics and meaning, my unassailable trust that other people have honest intentions. My call to ministry made more sense too. A lot of autistic adults really like church, and not just because of widely held stereotypes about autism and rigid beliefs. Every autistic person is different, but because autistic brains have more neural connections than the average human brain, many autistic people are drawn to explore nuance and complexity. When a congregation succeeds in fostering theological curiosity and encouraging a variety of perspectives, it assures me that my differences might be welcomed and celebrated, too.”

Alan Jacobs - Laity Lodge“Letting Go to Be Repaired” – Alan Jacobs in Echoes: “When I get ready to drive from my home in Waco to Laity Lodge—perhaps to lead a retreat, or perhaps just to have some time on my own—I always pack some sturdy hiking shoes, a bag of books, a notebook and pen, and a plan. It’s about a four-hour drive from my house to the Canyon. During that drive I listen to podcasts or music, but I’m always thinking about my plan—about how to make the best use of my time. But as I turn down the dusty road that drops to the Frio, I feel that my grip on the plan is not quite as firm as it had been. As I drive through the river, the grip loosens a little more. This is troubling. When I get to my room at the Lodge, I re-focus on my plan. I set out the books on the desk. I open the notebook and put the pen across it. But then, because I’ve been in the car for a long time, I need a walk. So, I strap on the hiking shoes and head out onto one of the trails, and as I do, with the Frio below me, the birds above me, and the cedars around me, something happens. Gradually, and without meaning to, I start to let go of my plan. It no longer seems to matter that much. I take a deep breath of the clean air, and then another. I walk; maybe I stop and just breathe for a while. Thus, I begin—for the first time in a long time, I perceive—to listen. And when I start to listen, God begins to speak to me … or maybe it’s better to say that when my own mental babble quietens for a moment, I realize that God has been speaking to me all along.”

Dante Bowe“Dante Bowe Navigates Worship in the Spotlight” – Kelsey Kramer McGinnis interviews Dante Bowe in Christianity Today: “Grammy Award–winning worship artist Dante Bowe is starting a new chapter. After years with some of today’s most influential worship music collectives, Bethel Music and Maverick City Music, Bowe has launched TRUE Music, a label and management company that he hopes will become a hub for creativity and spiritual growth for emerging artists. Bowe has shared a worship stage with the biggest and hippest names in the industry: Chandler Moore, Upperroom, Housefires, We The Kingdom, Crowder, Pat Barrett, and Brandon Lake. He’s known for his soulful, raspy voice and powerful performances on ‘Old Church Basement,’ ‘Take Me Back,’ and ‘Yes and Amen.’ His energetic stage presence and emphasis on spontaneity in worship make him a dynamic and sought-after performer. Bowe left Maverick City Music in September 2022; a social media post by Maverick City announced the departure, citing ‘behavior that was inconsistent with [its] core values and beliefs.’  The 29-year-old singer has reemerged after a social media hiatus with a new song “Hide Me” and a clear vision and a desire to foreground authenticity in his new project. His prominence has put him in the realm of Christian celebrity, though his heart is still to put Jesus at the center.”

pastor trauma

“A Rule for Pastors to Live By” – John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews and Joseph D. Small in Outreach Magazine: “How can pastors thrive amid the demands of being a preacher, therapist, administrator and CEO? We need a contemporary pastoral rule: a pattern for ministry that encourages and enables pastors to focus on what is most important in their pastoral task. Written by three veteran pastors, this book gives examples of pastoral rules in communities throughout the church’s history, providing concrete advice on how pastors can develop and keep a pastoral rule today. In our many years of working with and serving as pastors, we have observed that the pastoral office today is increasingly held hostage to a multitude of competing demands. The pastor is supposed to be, among many other things, preacher, teacher, therapist, administrator, personnel director, organizational manager, business entrepreneur and CEO—all at the same time. Each of these functions is critically important; moreover, they belong to the reality of pastoral ministry today. We cannot pretend that pastors are immune from the multiple pressures that increasingly define every kind of work in a digitalized, globalized world driven by values of efficiency and productivity. There is no going back to an era in which the pastor could imagine “himself” (as was the case in those days) to be nothing more than the congregation’s resident theological scholar who would be honored for his educated sermons and wise pastoral counsel, while others took care of the church’s ‘business.’ But pastors also have a responsibility to shape our reality. We are not simply passive servants of the marketplace; we are called to live in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We can make choices about what is more or less important. We can strive for a measure of order that honors God even as we remain flexible in responding to the needs of the day as they come at us. We can seek to exercise our service with integrity, in the sense of wholeness, by reframing all that we do in light of what God has done and continues to do for the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will benefit by having a ‘rule,’ a disciplined way of life that keeps us grounded in the principal calling of a pastor: to be faithful to God and God’s will for us and the people we serve.”

_129040037_gettyimages-1124433825.jpg“UN climate report: Scientists release ‘survival guide’ to avert climate disaster” – Matt McGrath and Georgina Rannard at The BBC: “UN chief Antonio Guterres says a major new report on climate change is a ‘survival guide for humanity.’  Clean energy and technology can be exploited to avoid the growing climate disaster, the report says. But at a meeting in Switzerland to agree their findings, climate scientists warned a key global temperature goal will likely be missed. Their report lays out how rapid cuts to fossil fuels can avert the worst effects of climate change. In response to the findings, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres says that all countries should bring forward their net zero plans by a decade. These targets are supposed to rapidly cut the greenhouse gas emissions that warm our planet’s atmosphere. ‘There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,’ the report states. Governments had previously agreed to act to avoid global temperature rise going above 1.5C. But the world has already warmed by 1.1C and now experts say that it is likely to breach 1.5C in the 2030s.”

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded,” King’s College Cambridge (2011).

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 February 2023

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

Turkey earthquake“Turkish and Syrian Christians Rally Earthquake Relief” – Jayson Casper in Christianity Today: “Local Christians were among the first responders to the massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria that left more than 5,000 people dead and more than 20,000 injured. They just don’t know how to make sense of it. ‘God have mercy on us, Christ have mercy,’ said Gokhan Talas, founder of the evangelical Miras Publishing Ministry in Istanbul. ‘This is our only spiritual reflection right now.’ His first instinct was to go. But as reports came in of deep snowfall and damaged roads, he shifted gears. His wife stayed up all night making phone calls to believers in Malatya, trying to coordinate aid. And with members of his church and Protestant congregations throughout Turkey, they bought blankets, medicines, baby formula, and diapers to send onward to the afflicted areas. ‘From this side of eternity, nothing is clear,’ Talas said. ‘But our sweet Lord is suffering with us.’ He warned of scams preying on the outpouring of generosity from around the world, even among the small Turkish evangelical community of roughly 10,000 believers. Their own supplies are being donated through İlk Umut Derneği—in English, First Hope Association (FHA), a Turkish Protestant NGO working closely with the local Red Crescent and AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.”

Asbury Univ revival“Why students at a Kentucky Christian school are praying and singing round the clock” – Bob Smietana in Religion News Service: “ast Wednesday (Feb. 8), students at Asbury University gathered for their biweekly chapel service in the 1,500-seat Hughes Auditorium. They sang. They listened to a sermon. They prayed. Nearly a week later, many of them are still there. ‘This has been an extraordinary time for us,’ Asbury President Kevin Brown said during a gathering on Monday, more than 120 hours into what participants have referred to as a spiritual revival. The revival has disrupted life and brought national attention to Asbury, an evangelical Christian school in Wilmore, Kentucky, about a half-hour outside of Lexington. Videos of students singing, weeping and praying have been posted on social media, leading to both criticism and praise from onlookers. News of the revival has also drawn students and other visitors to the campus to take part in the ongoing prayer and worship. ‘We’ve been here in Hughes Auditorium for over a hundred hours — praying, crying, worshipping and uniting — because of Love,’ wrote Alexandra Presta, editor of The Asbury Collegian, the school’s student newspaper, who has been chronicling the services on campus. ‘We’ve even expanded into Estes Chapel across the street at Asbury Theological Seminary and beyond. I can proclaim that Love boldly because God is Love.’ The ongoing meetings in the chapel — which have none of the flashing lights, fog machines or other trappings that accompany many modern worship services — have also brought back memories of a similar revival in the 1970s, which is recounted in a video produced by the university.”

article_63e416dc17537“A Wild Christianity” – Paul Kingsnorth in First Things: “hrough the mouth of the cave I watched the storm front move in from the east. I could already hear the approaching thunder; the low bank of cloud was gray with it. I was perched on a low ledge inside the cave, which was just long enough to accommodate a human body laid prone. I had filled the place with candles, which guttered and danced in the wind that was rising now with the coming storm. The storm broke in an instant, and then everything was roaring. Great nails of rain hammered down on the hazels, and the rumbles of thunder were replaced by an explosion right above me. The dimming evening sky was suddenly ripped from horizon to horizon by a great sheet of white lightning. More rain. More thunder. More electricity. It roared on and then, eventually, it roared past. Ten minutes later the rain had slowed, but the pause in hostilities was only temporary. I could see another front approaching over the mountains. For hours it went on. A night of storm and screaming skies. In the end, everything was black but for the light the candle flames threw on the weeping walls of the limestone cave, and the ­irregular explosions of light, which would suddenly imprint on my retinas a white cave mouth like an opening to heaven or hell. The roof of the cave was dripping now. Outside there was nothing to be seen unless the lightning came down, seeking the ground like a long-lost brother. No ruined church, no well, no spring, no wood: Everything that had surrounded me during the day had been swallowed by the Atlantic winter. This was how I spent the eve of my fiftieth birthday.”

MG-Jan-2023-800x533“What I Would Say to The Pastor Who Follows Me” – Mike Glenn at his blog: “As you might already know, I recently announced that I would be stepping down as Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church at the end of the year. By the time I step down, I will have served as pastor of this church for thirty-two years. That’s a good run in anybody’s book. My friends want to know why I’ve decided to make a transition at this time in my career. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ride it out? Not really. I’ve never been one to coast through life and the thought of trying to sit still when there is so much that can be done drives me nuts. Knowing that about myself, it’s better for me to move on and leave the stage for the next pastor. Here’s what I would tell the pastor who follows me: The age of the mega-church is over….Because churches will be smaller, they will be run by co-vocational staff and volunteers….While the rising generations give, they give very differently than the builders and boomers before them….Trauma is the new reality.”

Emmaus Trail“The Emmaus Trail” – Henri Gourinard in Bible History Daily: “Although the village of Emmaus plays an important role in the resurrection story, its exact whereabouts remain somewhat of a mystery.1 In the Gospel of Luke (24:13–35) we learn about a disciple of Jesus named Cleopas and his travel companion who were journeying from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they met up with an unassuming stranger. The men had been lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus, which had taken place just three days prior. The stranger approached and inquired about their grief. Cleopas explained that with the crucifixion the hope for redemption had been dashed, and further, that morning the tomb of Jesus had been discovered empty. The stranger reassured them that all these events had been foretold and that they were indeed signs that the Messiah had arrived. The men were comforted, and upon reaching Emmaus, invited the stranger to join them for a meal. It was then, when they sat together and broke bread with the stranger, that they realized he was actually the resurrected Christ. At that very instant, the stranger vanished. Cleopas and his friend immediately set off back to Jerusalem to share the good news of what they had witnessed. From this account, Christian commentators concluded that Emmaus could not be far from Jerusalem. Indeed, two of the earliest manuscripts containing Luke 24:13 reference Emmaus being relatively close to Jerusalem—one manuscript claims the distance was 60 stadia (7 miles), while another claims 160 stadia (19 miles). Since the two men would have set out late in the day and arrived in Jerusalem before dusk, the closer claim of 7 miles was traditionally favored. Thus, two villages, each located about 7 miles from Jerusalem, have traditionally been identified as the Emmaus of the Gospel: Abu Ghosh and el-Qubeibeh. However, a third site, located 19 miles west of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, may be the real Emmaus for a number of compelling reasons. Early Christian writers living in the Holy Land were of the unanimous opinion that Emmaus was located at a major Roman crossroad in the lowlands area near the towns of Modi‘in, Gezer, and Lydda. This opinion is also supported by the Jerusalem Talmud (Sheviit 9:2). Formely, the Arab village of Imwas (reminiscent of the name Emmaus) stood at the site. And finally, pilgrims who chronicled their visits to the house of Cleopas, which had since been transformed into the Church of the Breaking of the Bread, describe a major city of the Byzantine period known as Emmaus Nicopolis, located here. Tourists and pilgrims alike can now embark on a newly inaugurated 20 km (12.5 mile) walking trail and discover for themselves the trail to Emmaus. The Emmaus Trail, as it is known, is part of a network of trails maintained by the Jewish National Fund.”

stockpkg_mj8857_asco“See the extraordinary splendour of ordinary chemicals” – Nina Strochlic in National Geographic: “What do you see in these images? A palm-frond jungle? Bright bird feathers? Taking the Rorschach test that is Peter Woitschikowski’s photomicrography, viewers often compare the shapes with the natural world. But he asks them to embrace the abstract instead—to see something entirely new. ‘The hope is to turn the fantasy on,’ he says. In the 1980s, Woitschikowski, who lives in Germany, bought a microscope after seeing a magazine spread of microcrystal photography. He wanted to reveal this wondrous world that’s invisible to the unaided eye. The shapes are formed on glass lab plates by heating chemicals, such as acetaminophen, or mixing them with water or alcohol. As the substances cool or dry, crystals appear. When illuminated by polarised light, some seem to leap into a ballet of form and colour. The process is so delicate that even slight vibrations can ruin it. That’s why Woitschikowski uses a remote shutter trigger and works late at night when vehicle traffic outside his studio has subsided. ‘It’s a great experiment,’ he says. ‘You don’t know what you’ll see when you begin.'”

Music: Porter’s Gate, “Slow Me Down