The Weekend Wanderer: 21 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.

President Trump“Trump Should Be Removed from Office” – Christianity Today, the flagship publication for evangelicalism, broke the internet on Thursday when this article was released by its editor-in-chief, Mark Galli. While admitting that the opposing political party has had it in for President Trump since his election, CT is unequivocal: “But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” This is consistent with CT‘s earlier critique of both Presidents Nixon and Clinton during times of crisis. Galli was interviewed about the Op Ed by CNN (“Christianity Today calls for Trump’s Removal from Office“) and Emma Green in The Atlantic (“How Trump Lost an Evangelical Stalwart“).  Rod Dreher at The American Conservative also weighed in (“Christianity Today Anathematizes Trump“). 

 

_110191848_mediaitem110191845“Citizenship Amendment Act: India PM Modi appeals for calm as protests grow” – In the midst of our own political turmoil in the United States, it may be hard to pay attention to other areas, but let me urge some attention to the situation in India. There, Prime Minister Modi’z government has put forward a citizenship amendment which “allows non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who entered India illegally, to become citizens,” but restricts this for those of Muslim background. The religious aspects of this amendment have led to fierce uprisings and international outcry about persecution of religious minorities. While different in politics and context, this echoes concerns that have arisen over China’s treatment of religious minorities as well.

 

featured640px“The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons” – The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released a “computational analysis of nearly 50,000 sermons…across major Christian traditions” from churches’ online presences this past week. “The median sermon scraped from congregational websites is 37 minutes long. But there are striking differences in the typical length of a sermon in each of the four major Christian traditions analyzed in this report: Catholic, evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant and historically black Protestant.” As the primary preacher for four weekend services each weekend, with the goal of 35 minutes per message, I found this analysis fascinating. A summary of news report on the Pew Research Center’s analysis is found in “How long is the sermon? Study ranks Christian churches.”

 

Pope Francis“Pope lifts ‘pontifical secret’ rule in sex abuse cases” – One of the biggest global crises of the last decade in ecclesial discussions has to be the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, as well as others. This has left craters of pain and echoes of hypocrisy in individual churches, as well as church fellowships throughout various nations. In many cases, investigation of these cases has been limited by pontifical secrecy, a concept established to protect sensitive information that was broadened to shield information in judicial circumstances. Pope Francis’ declaration this past Tuesday removed such shielding so that appropriate information sharing can allow investigations to move forward. “‘Certain jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret … to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorised to share information with either state authorities or the victims,’ Archbishop Scicluna said. ‘Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse.'”

 

Interior St Margaret Mary Catholic Church“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back” – There has been a tremendous amount of discussion around the shifting landscape in North America in relation to religion and emerging generations. Particularly in regards to millennials (those between ages 23 and 38), there is a recognition that increasingly percentages affiliate with no religion (“religious nones” – although some dispute this phrase) versus specific religious affiliation, whether Christianity or something else. One driving assumption that has given religious leaders comfort is the idea that one day these irreligious folks will return to church when the time is right or the need arises; often connected to when they have children. However, this comforting idea does not seem to be. As this article shared by a friend suggests, “there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.”

 

92301“Leith Anderson Has Bright Hopes for the Next Decade of Ministry” – The outgoing President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) reflects on major themes of the coming decade of Christian ministry. Some of his reflections are more factual, related to shifting demographics in our country, while others are more optimistic predictions of what lies ahead for the Christian church. Reading this article together with the previous one on religiously unaffiliated offers a healthy dialogue with differing perspectives on similar themes.

 

Music: Robbie Seay Band, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Come Thou Fount),” from December, vol 2 – Songs for Advent

[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.]

Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent

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I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.

In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.

As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.

There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.

The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 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.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed“Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize” – In the midst of our political debates, Christians often wonder what their role should be within the public square. H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work Christ and Culture (1951) outlines a fivefold typology: Christ Against Culture, the Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture. While you can argue your position, it seems hard to argue against the witness of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, an evangelical Christian, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at making peace with Eritrea.

 

Walter Kim“National Association of Evangelicals names new president, diverse leadership” – Speaking of evangelicals, the National Association of Evangelicals announced on Thursday that Walter Kim will succeed Leith Anderson as President of the NAE. This announcement marks a change toward greater leadership diversity for the NAE, as they simultaneously announced John Jenkins to the office of chair of the NAE board and Jo Anne Lyon to the office of vice chair.

 

92413“The Most Diverse Movement in History – As a pastor of a multiethnic church, I think about what diversity means quite a bit. I wrestle with Christianity’s checkered past and present on certain aspects of what we call diversity, and I hold onto the hope of the dream of God in Revelation 7:9-10. Every once in awhile someone comes along to breathe some fresh wind into my sails on these issues. Rebecca McClaughlin did just that in this essay, which points toward the powerful multiethnic history and reality of Christ’s church.

 

lead_720_405“Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore” – In her strange, but arresting, book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell relates the strangely refreshing experience of having dinner with one of her neighbors: ‘Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment….For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.” Odell’s experience is increasingly rare. In part, that is because of the way that work and our sense of time are being transformed in our current culture. As Judith Schulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Timeargues in The Atlantic, we may want to do something about it. As those who believe people are made in God’s image, work is worship, and sabbath is theologically and practically significant, we may want to do something about it as well.

 

GerardManleyHopkins“The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins” – Let me confess it: I am a preacher who loves poetry. Both my undergraduate studies in literature and my love for music gives me great joy in hearing the beauty of poetry read aloud. There is a tradition within Christian pastoral ministry of poet-preachers that includes such well-regarded figures as George Herbert and John Donne, as well as one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. A recent book of Hopkins’ extant homilies, only 32 total, gives us some insight into Hopkins as a preacher. From the sound of it, both his poetry and his preaching may not have been well appreciated in his lifetime.

 

Music: Cross Worship, featuring Osby Berry, “So Will I (100 Billion X) / Do It Again”

[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.]

John Chrysostom on Preaching to please God and not for human praise

In my ongoing efforts to re-learn pastoral ministry, I am turning to books commended through the ages about what it means to be a pastor. One of those I just recently read was St. John Chrysostom’s brief work, Six Books on the Priesthood. I share these comments that I found particularly helpful, from the end of that book, about preaching to please God and not for human praise.

Let the craftsman be the judge of his own handiwork too, and let us rate his productions as beautiful or poor when that is the verdict of the mind which contrived them. But as for the erratic and unskilled opinion of outsiders, we should not so much as consider it. So too the man who has accepted the task of teaching should pay no attention to the commendation of outsiders, any more than he should let them cause him dejection. When he has composed his sermons to please God (and let this alone be his rule and standard of good oratory in sermons, not applause or commendation), then if he should be approved by men too, let him not spurn their praise. But if his hearers do not accord it, let him neither seek it or sorrow for it. It will be sufficient encouragement for his efforts, and one much better than anything else, if his conscience tells him that he is organizing and regulating his teaching to please God. For in fact, if he has already been overtaken by the desire for unmerited praise, neither his great efforts nor his powers of speech will be any use. His soul, being unable to bear the senseless criticisms of the multitude, grows slack and loses all earnestness in preaching. So a preacher must train himself all else to despise praise. For without this addition, knowledge of the technique of speaking is not enough to ensure powerful speech.

– John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood, trans. by Graham Neville (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977), 133.

The Weekend Wanderer: 24 August 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.

 

1619.png“The 1619 Project” – The New York Times unveiled a major new project last weekend, reexamining American history through the lens of slavery. “The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” If you have difficulty accessing the interactive article at The New York Times, you can also read a static version of this first 100-page installment here.

 

Fleming Rutledge“The year 1619 and my home state of Virginia” – There were all sorts of reactions to “The 1619 Project.” You could read some of those at National Review (“What The 1619 Project Leaves Out”), Vox (“1619 and the cult of American innocence”), The Washington Post (“The 1619 Project and the far-right fear of history”), and The American Conservative (“The NYT’s Woke-ism Undermines Liberalism”). However, the article related to the 1619 Project that I found most interesting was theologian and preacher Fleming Rutledge’s personal reflections on “The year 1619 and my home state of Virginia.” In this, Rutledge wrestles with her own personal history and background, questioning what it means for the church and individual Christians to face into the present moment.

 

91857“Have Archaeologists Found the Lost City of the Apostles?” – “After recent headlines announced that archaeologists in Israel had uncovered the Church of the Apostles, questions followed. What church is this? And what do these findings tell us about the days of Jesus and his earliest followers? The world’s attention has turned to a small excavation on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a project I have been involved with as the academic director since the beginning. Our findings have rekindled the debate about the location for Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip referenced in John 1:44.”

 

article_5d24c3e7090fe“Fear of the Word”Hans Boersma at First Things: “My students are afraid to preach—not all of them, but more and more, it seems. And it is often the brightest and most eloquent, those who are least justified in parroting Moses’s excuse—“I am slow of speech and of tongue”—who lack the confidence to open the Scriptures for the people of God. I write now for them, though they are not alone: I have the same feeling of inadequacy, and I know that others do as well.”

 

Litter_on_Singapore's_East_Coast_Park.620_0“The tiny nation waging war on plastic” –  From BBC: “Over the years, the tropical island nation of Vanuatu has struggled with its attempts to eliminate single-use plastics, but thanks to an extensive campaign, the country is about to implement one of the toughest plastic bans in the world. Last year it banned drinking straws, plastic bags and styrofoam, but by December 2019 it will have added all single-use plastics to the list (ahead of the EU next year).”

 

Bernard of Clairvaux“On Loving God” – I reflected this week on the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux in my grasp of God’s love for us as believers and our return love to God. Here is a summary of Bernard’s teaching in his classic work, On Loving God. “You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is that God himself is the reason why he is to be loved. As for how he is to be loved, there is to be no limit to that love. Is this sufficient answer? Perhaps, but only for a wise man.”

 

download.jpeg“How the great truth dawned” – One of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century for me personally is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. His insightful critique of both repressive Soviet communism and unbound American capitalism from a deeply reflective and insightful Christianity is still as valuable today as back then. Here is Gary Paul Morson reflecting on “the Soviet virtue of cruelty” with a healthy does of Solzhenitsyn woven into the mix.

 

Bob Dylan - Slow Train Coming“Slow Train Coming” – This past week marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming.” Loved by some and reviled by others, “Slow Train Coming” was Dylan’s first release after his conversion to Christianity and every song on the album reflects those themes. This article is Rolling Stone‘s original review of the album, in which Jann Wenner writes: “The more I hear the new album — at least fifty times since early July — the more I feel that it’s one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest.” While certain tracks are religiously strange (“Man Gave Names to All the Animals”), I still love some of the tracks on this album, such as “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Slow Train,” and “When You Gonna Wake Up?”

 

Music: “Slow Train” by Bob Dylan from Slow Train Coming; this version from a live concert in Trouble No More.

[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: 17 August 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.

Marty Sampson“What could have helped Marty Sampson’s faith” – Some of you may have heard that Marty Sampson, well-known as a worship leader and song writer with Hillsong United and Hillsong Young & Free, announced that he is departing from his Christian faith. After pointing to the string of failures in ministry leaders and sharing some of his own doubts, Sampson says multiple times, “No one talks about it.” Aside from the fact that a lot of people talk about it, this raises multiple issues about the theological vacuity of much of evangelicalism, the inability of many churches to give space and guidance to people in moments of questioning or doubt, and also the lack of long-term growth mindset that gives space for ups and downs in much hyped-up contemporary worship-experience churches. Australian missiologist Michael Frost offers some meaningful insights in this article, with reference to the life of Thomas Merton: “In our information-drunk, effectiveness-addicted culture, finding genuine truth happens through the life-tested skill of gathering what is needed to sustain faith without killing faith in the gathering.”

I’d also encourage you to read Russell Moore’s article, “When Someone You Admire Abandons the Faith.He writes, “The Internet is atwitter with opinions on all of that, from atheists, from Christians, and everyone in between. As sad as I am about all of this, I can’t help but think about lots of people I’ve known, many of whom would never make headlines, who just, sometimes very quietly, walked away from the faith. ” Along with that, David French’s article on this issue, “Another Pop-Culture Christian Loses His Faith,” in National Review is painfully relevant: “I’m noticing a pattern in many of the people who fall away (again, only Sampson knows his heart): They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the adversity of adherence to increasingly countercultural doctrine grows too great.”

 

J D Vance Catholic“J.D. Vance Becomes Catholic” – At another point in the faith journey continuum, there is this news. J. D. Vance wrote the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis as a reflection on social challenges in our country, the struggle to find stability in life, and what it means to become a good person in spite of a difficult family upbringing. The book became a New York Times bestseller and is being made into a movie directed by Ron Howard. Rod Dreher reported this past week that Vance has converted to Roman Catholicism. Vance comments: “one of the things I love about Catholicism is that it’s very old. I take a longer view….The hope of the Christian faith is not rooted in any short-term conquest of the material world, but in the fact that it is true, and over the long term, with various fits and starts, things will work out.”

 

91727“Preaching Against Racism Is Not a Distraction from the Gospel” – Here is Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College: “In light of recent gun violence, some of which appears to be racially motivated, the church’s response to racial controversy is once again in the spotlight. We have to ask ourselves: What will our testimony be? What do we do when violent events occur with such startling frequency that we don’t know what to do or what to say? How do know when it is wise to be silent or when it is necessary to speak? Pastors, in particular, have to ask: How do we use the pulpit to preach against racism?”

 

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“Does Your Preaching Touch Politics?” – And if that raised some questions about how the pulpit should engage with current issues, here is a 2008 article featuring Mark Dever, Adam Hamilton, Joel Hunter, and Efrem Smith on how they preach on political issues. While some aspects of it show their age, as we continue in a divisive climate in our society, advice from these seasoned pastors is worth the read.

 

NewYorker_Mosquito_Vertical_v5“How Mosquitoes Changed Everything” – We all dislike mosquitoes, but now there is an assembly of their great impact on human civilization. “Winegard finds first-person descriptions of death and suffering caused by mosquito-borne diseases in many eras. Florence Nightingale called the Pontine Marshes, near Rome, ‘the Valley of the Shadow of Death’; a German missionary visiting the southern United States wrote that it was ‘in the spring a paradise, in the summer a hell, and in the autumn a hospital’; a Mayan survivor of post-Columbus epidemics remembered, ‘Great was the stench of death. . . . All of us were thus. We were born to die!’ And yet human beings lived with, and died from, mosquito-borne diseases for thousands of years without understanding how they were reaching us. Not until the end of the nineteenth century was it scientifically established that mosquitoes transmitted malaria. Before then, the miasma theory, holding that fevers travelled independently, through fetid environments, held sway, reflected in the very word ‘malaria’: we thought we were the victims of ‘bad air.’ That these tiny biting insects might be affecting our lives so profoundly was a leap beyond imagining.”

 

_108333557_overallwinner_matbeetson_watermarked“In pictures: Australian Geographic’s photo prize winners” – The world is a beautiful place, and there are many parts to it that we will never be able to see in person. Thankfully, there are skilled photographers who can share unique views of God’s good creation with great skill and from fascinating angles.

 

bach-manuscript-well-tempered-clavier-prelude-no-1-1414409439-1-600x452“The Prelude” – Here’s Austin Kleon combatting violence with Bach. “I thought today that I was going to sit down and blog about violence, about how hard I am trying to cleanse my house of violence, how violence is not just guns and bombs and knives and fists, but how many kinds of touch can be violent, how words can be violent, how you can stab your salad violently….The only thing I feel like I can do is make my home a haven, a place where we celebrate things of beauty and rationality and love and peace. Bach’s music is one of those things.”

 

Music: J. S. Bach, “The Goldberg Variations,” performed by Glenn Gould (1955).

[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: 29 December 2018

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.

iranian christians“Iranians Are Converting To Evangelical Christianity In Turkey” – NPR reports on something that has been tracked by religious news agencies for awhile. “In Turkey and across the Middle East and Europe, evangelical Christians are converting Muslim refugees eager to emigrate to the West. The refugees in Turkey escaped Iran, where conversion to anything but Islam is illegal. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iran. Those considered part of the native Christian communities are permitted to practice their religion with restrictions, but a Muslim converting to Christianity is considered an apostate. The Iranian government jails converts, especially those who proselytize. The authorities see it as a Western plan to turn Iranians against Islam and the Islamic regime, according to converts in Turkey.”

 

iweslej001p1“Counsel for preachers (and other Christians)” – Over at his blog, Alan Jacobs shares some penetrating insight from John Wesley on how preachers should approach life and preaching. What’s his advice? Read more to shape your faith and skill as a preacher. “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarcely ever knew a Preacher read so little. And, perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep: there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with daily meditation and daily prayer.”

 

Griswold-The-Other-Evangelicals“Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right” – Evangelicalism is changing in more ways than one. In The New Yorker, Eliza Griswold reports on one of the most significant changes. “In the United States, evangelicalism has long been allied with political conservatism. But under Trump’s Presidency right-wing political rhetoric has become more openly racist and xenophobic. In evangelical circles, hostility toward people of color is often couched in nostalgia for the simpler days of nineteen-fifties America….The growing number of evangelicals of color have begun pushing in earnest for more of a political voice in the church.”

 

persectued church 2018“The 10 Most-Read Stories of the Persecuted Church” – Christianity Today gathers together their 10 most-read stories related to the persecuted church in 2018. Ranging from Pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey to Indonesian churches blasted by a family of suicide bombers, from North Korea’s decision to free American Christians and Leah Sharibu’s inspiration of Nigerian believers, and so much more. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, you should be.

 

hang christians“Jeremy Hunt orders global review into persecution of Christians” – On a related note, UK Foreign Secretary is calling for a global review of persecution of Christians. “The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has ordered an independent, global review into the persecution of Christians of all nationalities amid claims that not enough is being done to defend the rights of nearly 200 million Christians at risk of persecution today. The unprecedented Foreign Office review will be led by the Bishop of Truro, Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, and will make recommendations on the practical steps the government can take to better support those under threat.”

 

baby feet.jpeg“The Case Against CRISPR Babies” – Nicanor Austriaco at First Things: “A few days after Thanksgiving, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui shocked the global community by announcing that he had created the world’s first gene-edited, designer babies—twin girls named Lulu and Nana. The two ‘CRISPR babies’ had been born a few weeks earlier to their HIV-positive father Mark and his wife, Grace. Many scientists expressed anger and frustration at the announcement. U.S. National Institutes of Health Director, Francis Collins, described Jiankui’s work as a ‘profoundly unfortunate,’ ‘ill-considered,’ ‘unethical,’ ‘scientific misadventure’ that ‘flout[ed] international ethical norms.'”

[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.]