“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.
“The International League of the Guilty” – Jason Micheli in Mockingbird: “There’s no ‘Peanuts Ash Wednesday Special.’ Nobody grew up watching a stop-motion Burl Ives saying, ‘Hey kid, you’re a sinner and you’re going to die.’ Ash Wednesday doesn’t get anyone like Kris Kringle or Krampus. Starbucks doesn’t unveil any sin-themed soy lattes for Ash Wednesday. Christmas has been commercialized and loaded down with sweet-sounding Law. Easter has been sentimentalized by bunnies and butterflies and metaphors of springtime renewal. The soot smeared on Ash Wednesday remains an unsullied message. There aren’t any Ash Wednesday office parties. There’s no marketing, no media, no movie tie-ins or product placements for Ash Wednesday. Nobody but Christians want anything do with talk about sin and death, which is a shame because, as allergic as our culture is to the ashes, what Christians do with them has more to do with love than any Nora Ephron movie. When you do away with the concept of sin, the category of shame is your only alternative. Without sin, what’s wrong with me is simply and only what’s wrong with me. Leaving sin behind is lonely-making. Without a concept of sin, there is no correlative category of grace and you’re left only with what St. Paul would call the crushing accusations of the law.”
“What Monks Can Teach Us About Paying Attention: Lessons from a centuries-long war against distraction” – Casey Cep in The New Yorker: “Who was the monkiest monk of them all? One candidate is Simeon Stylites, who lived alone atop a pillar near Aleppo for at least thirty-five years. Another is Macarius of Alexandria, who pursued his spiritual disciplines for twenty days straight without sleeping. He was perhaps outdone by Caluppa, who never stopped praying, even when snakes filled his cave, slithering under his feet and falling from the ceiling. And then there’s Pachomius, who not only managed to maintain his focus on God while living with other monks but also ignored the demons that paraded about his room like soldiers, rattled his walls like an earthquake, and then, in a last-ditch effort to distract him, turned into scantily clad women. Not that women were only distractions. They, too, could have formidable attention spans—like the virgin Sarah, who lived next to a river for sixty years without ever looking at it. These all-stars of attention are just a few of the monks who populate Jamie Kreiner’s new book, The Wandering Mind: What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction (Liveright). More specifically, they are the exceptions: most of their brethren, like most of us, were terrible at paying attention. All kinds of statistics depict our powers of concentration as depressingly withered, but, as Kreiner shows, medieval monasteries were filled with people who wanted to focus on God but couldn’t. Long before televisions or TikTok, smartphones or streaming services, paying attention was already devilishly difficult—literally so, in the case of these monks, since they associated distraction with the Devil.”
“Opinion: What is Revival—and is it Happening at Asbury?” – Craig Keener at The Roys Report: “‘I thought you were praying for revival. What are you doing downstairs?’ With those words, my wife summoned me from my basement last Wednesday evening, where I was working on a very long book and neglecting what was happening on the campus of Asbury University. I teach at neighboring Asbury Seminary. And if you’ve following the news, you know that people have been streaming to the university—and now the seminary—to witness and experience what some are calling revival. After my wife’s prompting, she and I quickly headed to the back of Asbury’s Hughes Auditorium to pray. We found the worship service that started that morning had neither stopped nor declined. On Saturday, we found seats in the balcony. The university’s 1,489-seat auditorium was packed. On Sunday, the spirit of worship felt deeper, and I felt more aware of God’s awesome holiness. By Tuesday, Feb. 14, long lines waited outside the auditorium, where amplifiers allowed the music to be heard. When I finished my evening class at the seminary, the overflow crowds had filled the seminary’s Estes Chapel, which seats 660, its McKenna Chapel, which seats 375, and spilled over into the building shared by the local United Methodist and Vineyard churches. (I was informed that had already begun the preceding night.)” You may also enjoy watching Dr. Keener speak about this on YouTube here.
“Write a New Hymn unto the Lord” – Benjamin Vincent in Christianity Today: “Anyone who has grown up in or around the church is likely familiar with ‘hymn stories’—the stories that surround the composition of some of our favorite songs of worship. How many times have you heard the life of Horatio Spafford recounted before singing ‘It Is Well with My Soul’? How often has the slave-trading past of John Newton been told to give rich reality to the sweet strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ (which is just over 250 years old!)? The same can be said for number of other famous hymn writers throughout Christian history. We love to tell hymn stories because they remind us that every hymn is a prayer and that every prayer begins from the real faith of a real man or woman seeking God. For the same reason, there has been a resurgence of interest in seeking God through various spiritual practices, especially in recent decades. Popular books like Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love have challenged believers to consider the role of disciplined, habit-forming practices in spiritual growth and development. As a young Christian myself, I have watched my peers pick up practices like journaling, lectio divina, and prayers of examen as they seek to consistently practice the presence of God. In the same way, I believe writing hymns should play a role in spiritual formation. And as I reflect on the role that hymn writing has played in my own life, I find that it has become a kind of spiritual practice—not merely an artistic enterprise but a simple and consistent way of responding to God.”
“How I Quit Consumerism (and Rediscovered God)” – Strahan Coleman at Ecstatic: “I’ve been chronically sick for years, a decade actually, and something I’ve learned about the body is the way it remembers things long after we forget them consciously. Healing then, is about going back into our past to uncoil the damage done by different immune responses—or lack thereof—from the many little wars our bodies fight in a lifetime. This truth has a spiritual dimension, too. Once in a while, we arrive at a moment when the malfunctioning of our prayer lives and church communities finally become painfully apparent, and yet the damage doesn’t seem to be healed with the usual dose of herbal remedy or bandage. It’s a deeper kind of pain, and it can feel unnameable and untouchable. Sometimes, it can seem like a whole generation gets hit with the same symptoms at once, as the communal body breaks down under the weight of the undiagnosable pathogen within it. I know I’m not alone in wondering if we’re in a moment like that right now. But what’s the underlying disease? Or at least the source of infection? For me, I had the stark experience of a God-interruption some years ago now that helped me to name the disease for myself.”
“Southern Baptists oust Saddleback Church over woman pastor” – Peter Smith at APNews: “The Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday ousted its second-largest congregation — Saddleback Church, the renowned California megachurch founded by pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren — for having a woman pastor. The vote by the convention’s Executive Committee culminates growing tension between the nation’s largest Protestant denomination — which officially opposes women as pastors — and a congregation whose story has been one of the biggest church-growth successes of modern times. The committee cited Saddleback’s having ‘a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor,’ an allusion to Stacie Wood, wife of the current lead pastor of Saddleback, Andy Wood. But the controversy began in 2021, when Warren ordained three women as pastors, prompting discussions within the denomination about possibly expelling the megachurch. Warren retired last year after more than 42 years at Saddleback. He made an emotional speech in June 2022 at the Southern Baptists’ annual convention in Anaheim, standing by his ordination of women. He told delegates who debated the issue, ‘We have to decide if we will treat each other as allies or adversaries.'”
Music: Zach Miller, “Chain Breaker“