The Weekend Wanderer: 17 December 2022

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.


CT 2023 Book Awards“Christianity Today’s 2023 Book Awards” – From the Editors at Christianity Today: “When my alarm buzzes on the morning of an especially busy day, I often respond with a strange lack of urgency. A low rumble of dread builds as I ponder all the chores, errands, or work tasks that need completing. But instead of resolving to get up and get cracking, I linger in bed, nearly paralyzed by the weight of responsibility. I know what I need to do, but for some reason I can’t summon the willpower to do it. Something similar plays out in the lives of many Christians, according to Uche Anizor, a professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. They know they’re supposed to love God, study Scripture, and pursue a life of holiness, but they can’t escape the clutches of spiritual indifference. In Overcoming Apathy: Gospel Hope for Those Who Struggle to Care, Anizor appeals to lukewarm believers, not with an accusing glare or a motivational speaker’s bullhorn, but with the compassion of someone who has fought this battle himself. It’s a worthy choice for CT’s Book of the Year. Across the board, the judges who read and evaluated it commended Anizor for putting his finger on a problem that routinely flies under the radar, even as it sinks so many of God’s people into a spiritual quagmire.”


pagan Christmas Holland“The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas: Why does the idea that this Christian festival was stolen from heathen tradition persist?” – Tom Holland at UnHerd: “In AD 932 the most powerful ruler in Britain spent Christmas on the edge of Salisbury Plain. Never before had a unitary kingdom been fashioned out of all the various realms of the Angles and the Saxons. Never before had all the other kings of the island, from the northernmost reaches of Scotland to the mountains of Wales, been compelled to acknowledge the overlordship of a single man. That December, taking the road that led through the West Saxon heartlands of his kingdom, and arriving with his court in the fortified settlement of Amesbury, Athelstan could be well satisfied with the scope of his power. Across the Channel, in the lands of the Franks, it had long been the custom of emperors to sit in state at Christmas, publicly wearing a crown. Athelstan, a king who had won for himself his own imperial dignity, was the first of his dynasty to do the same. His greatness made for a dazzling show. There was feasting, drinking, gift-giving. Sat on his throne, wearing his diadem, the King of the English bestowed largesse. On Christmas Eve he made generous grants of land. One was to an abbey, another to a lord named Alfred. Such munificence was widely seen as appropriate to the season. The radiance of the king’s hospitality blazed all the more brilliantly for the cold and darkness all around. Athelstan did not know it, but the festivities he presided over at Amesbury that Christmas of 932 had a pedigree that reached back millennia.”


34telushkinembedlavender“Desiring Silence: Ancient believers went to the desert seeking God in the stillness of open spaces” – Shira Telushkin in Plough: “And yet today, far from being unnerving, silence is usually the soundtrack of transcendent possibility, the sound we most associate with open space. Surely I am not the only one who waxes poetic about echoey galleries with soaring ceilings or abandoned warehouses shimmering with uninterrupted space. And what is more majestic than the desert at sunrise, an expanse of ocean, or walking alone along a forest path densely enclosed by trees? In all these moments it is the unexpected encounter with silence that heightens the experience. Silence is sonic vastness just as a desert is physical vastness. In cramped quarters we are hemmed in by stuff; in crowded soundscapes we are limited by noises. But what sounds count as silence, and what sounds count as noise? Is silence the rare glimpse of divine experience, or is it compatible with human presence, accessible and available if only we had the ears to hear it? This is the question Kim Haines-Eitzen investigates in Sonorous Desert: What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks – And What It Can Teach Us. Inspired by her work as a scholar of early Christian monasticism, the book is structured around her journeys to capture the sounds of various deserts and remote monasteries across the world, initially to gain better insight into ‘how natural sounds impacted ancient monasticism.’ She wants to know: ‘What did ancient monks hear in their environment? And what did they learn from these sounds?’ The book quickly veers from the tightness of this early interest into a narrative reflection on silence, rooted in ancient Christian sources and the sounds of remote places, but also meditating more broadly on conceptions of wilderness in the modern world, the experience of sound-seeking, and desert community. In a neat bit of multisensory innovation, each chapter includes a QR-code link to one of her field recordings.”


NPC“State Finds ‘Substantial Evidence’ of Retaliation at Illinois Church” – Emily Belz in Christianity Today: “A 2021 firing of a female staff member from a Chicago-area church led by pastor and author Dane Ortlund was determined to have “substantial evidence” of retaliation, according to an investigation into alleged discrimination by the state of Illinois. The former director of operations at Naperville Presbyterian Church, Emily Hyland, said her termination came days after privately complaining to two elders about gender discrimination from Ortlund. At the time, she had worked at the church for eight years, and he had been senior pastor for six months. After her firing, she filed charges over gender discrimination and retaliation at the state agency. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) did not find evidence that the church or Ortlund discriminated against her based on her gender. Evidence shows that ‘Ortlund … never made any discriminatory remarks directly related to [Hyland’s] sex,’ the report said, nor was there evidence of discrimination that rose to the level of a ‘hostile work environment.’ But the agency found ‘substantial evidence’ that she was fired ‘in retaliation for having engaged in prior protected activity.'”


Old-Vintage-Books“Theological schools report continued drop in master of divinity degrees” – Kathryn Post at Religion News Service: “Professional degrees are gaining traction at theological schools across the U.S. and Canada, while the traditional ministerial degree, the master of divinity, is faltering, according to new data released late last month. But Chris Meinzer, senior director and chief operation officer of The Association of Theological Schools, noted that overall enrollment at ATS schools has remained stable and that the master of divinity degree isn’t dying. Instead, he said, the M.A. degree is appealing to more students. The Association of Theological Schools, an umbrella organization with over 270 member schools, reported an uptick in doctor of ministry and other professional doctoral programs designed to enhance a minister’s practical skills. Based on enrollment numbers reported by nearly 90% of schools, projected enrollment for doctoral and similar programs in 2022 was 12,300 students, a 4% increase from fall 2021 and a notable 24% increase from fall 2018, according to the ATS.  The Master of Arts degree, a two-year program that trains students for a wide range of professions, including doctoral studies, nonprofit work and lay ministry, has also seen a subtle increase of 1% since fall 2021, and 5% since fall 2018, according to fall 2022 projections. The ATS reports that enrollment in M.A. programs is now on par with enrollment in master of divinity programs for the first time in ATS history, according to fall 2022 projections. The master of divinity degree — a three-year program typically chosen by students pursuing ordination — continues to decline. The projected enrollment for fall 2022 is 28,000 master of divinity students, a 4% decrease from fall 2021 and 9% decline since fall 2018. Master of divinity programs still constitute 35% of enrollment at theological schools overall, per fall 2022 projections. That’s a significant decline from the 43% of total enrollment for master of divinity degrees a decade ago.”


122022-light-dark-worship“Should we avoid liturgical language of light and dark?: While struggling with this question as a church songwriter, I came up with six guidelines.” – Steve Thorngate at The Christian Century: “I write liturgical songs, both music and words, and a few years ago I did a project centered on the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany cycle. There were many classic themes to explore—hope, waiting, incarnation, joy, gift. There was also one in particular that I soon realized would require some careful consideration: the play of darkness and light. Many Christians would like to excise light/dark language from our liturgical texts—or at least exclude it from any new ones—and for pretty persuasive reasons. There is a long history in the church of using words like light, white, bright, and fair to connote goodness in a straightforward way and words like dark, black, shade, and dim to connote the opposite. Most instances of such usage were not written for explicitly racist purposes (though some were). Still, this language has thrived alongside racism in White-dominated church contexts. And language—especially ritual language, repeated again and again—has great power among those who speak or hear it, power not constrained by the intent of its creators. So there is a compelling case to simply avoid this whole family of descriptive language at church: it can be and has been used to bolster White supremacy, so it just isn’t worth hanging onto. Other Christians make the reasonable point that the Bible—our primary text, shared across time and tradition—should be the norm for liturgical language. And the Bible is chock-full of light/dark imagery, with much (though not all) of it presenting light as the positive side of the coin. Jesus is the light of the world, the morning star, the one who obviates the need for lamp or sunlight, the one in whom there is no darkness at all. Forgiveness for sin washes us whiter than snow. And then, over on the other side of things, there’s the power of darkness. Why should the church avoid this language the biblical writers use so freely?”


Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Benedictus,” as performed by the Choir of St. Michael at the North Gate.

An Angel at the Altar: Zechariah’s Encounter with Gabriel

Blake - Zecharias and the Angel.jpeg
William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, pen and black ink, tempera, and glue size on canvas; 1799-1800.

an angel at the altar
heaven’s glory shatters earth’s sanctity
a voice indescribable yet understandable
a promise of hope unimaginable
confusion for old Zechariah
“our age – my wife – a baby – God – now?”
his call and God’s response
no utterance or voice now
his silence itself a testimony
that speaks of the ineffable
what has happened
what is happening
the first flutter of life within Elizabeth
gestates a voice of hope for humanity


I wrote these words after reading and reflecting on Luke 1:5-25 as part of my Advent readings and shared it in my message this past Sunday. Zechariah has always struck me as a figure we all could relate to from Scripture. He encounters an angel of the Lord in the Temple, the place of all places that it seems like such a thing should happen. Yet Zechariah is so overwhelmed and confused by the message the angel brings that he doubts it could be possible. Struck dumb until the birth of the child, his silence becomes a message, even as the baby that his wife, Elizabeth, carries in her womb will be “a voice of one crying out,” directing attention to the Messiah. There is so much in here about speaking and silence, hearing and responding, as part of God’s work in relationship to humanity.

The Weekend Wanderer: 24 September 2022

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


c3a88de3-3f75-48c8-a590-f64d16f580bd_696x357“Intermission: Last Post for Christian England” – Paul Kingsnorth at The Abbey of Misrule: “I spent much of the day, along with several hundred million other people around the world, watching the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth on TV. It was full of remarkable, beautifully choreographed and often moving moments, as you would expect of an event which has been prepared for since the 1960s. A lot of things don’t work very well in Britain anymore, but this kind of pageantry is something we can still do well. We will not see its like again, I don’t think. I say ‘pageantry’, but this is a dismissive word. What happened today was a rolling, dense mat of symbolism, replete with historical meaning, anchored in a very particular nation and time period. What did it symbolise? Above all, I think, it symbolised something that our culture has long stopped believing in, and as such can’t really process effectively, or even perhaps quite comprehend. This was brought home to me by one particular moment in the ceremony.”


Taylor - Silence“In Praise of Silence” – W. David O. Taylor at his blog: “I’m excited to be speaking at the Liturgy Collective conference in Nashville on October 13-14. It’ll be a wonderful opportunity to connect with other musicians, pastors, and liturgists. This year, the theme of the conference is ‘rest,’ which I think is perennially needed, but even more so these days. The topic of my two talks will be on the nature of Silence in Worship, and my basic argument is that we need far more of it than we usually presume. Silence is fundamental to faithful prayer, I suggest, because prayer begins with the act of listening, not talking. God gets the first word—not the pastor, not the musician, not any of us. Silence also is fundamental to faithful singing because in silence, we attune our ears to ‘the chief Conductor of our hymns,’ as John Calvin once put it. We do so in order to be reminded that we were not the first to arrive on the liturgical scene. In humility, we listen first—then we sing. Silence is likewise fundamental to faithful preaching because the preacher must make time for the people of God to inwardly digest the word of God so that it has a fighting chance to take root in our hearts and bear good fruit in our lives.”


HTB“Wanted: Creation Care Coordinator for Major British Evangelical Church” – Ken Chitwood in Christianity Today: “The job ad was a little different than the ones normally posted by London’s largest churches. It wasn’t for a pastor, priest, choir director, or organist. Instead, the large evangelical Anglican congregation wanted an environmental project manager. Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), perhaps best known as the birthplace of the evangelistic Alpha course, has advertised a position for someone who will help ‘oversee the strategy, planning and execution of HTB’s approach to Creation Care.’ The individual will work closely with other lead team members to put an ‘environmental response at the heart of church life.’ Jobs like this at places like HTB are notable, said Jo Chamberlain, national environment policy officer for the Church of England. Such roles, she said, signal a sea change. Evangelical churches in the UK—and perhaps elsewhere—are embracing the critical importance of creation care and environmental stewardship at the congregational level.”


Charles Spurgeon“The Secret to Spurgeon’s Success” – Stephen Story at The Gospel Coalition: “Everyone is a theologian, R. C. Sproul rightly observed. Anyone with ideas or beliefs about God is doing theology. It may be poorly considered, but it’s theology nonetheless. By the same token, it might be said that everyone has an ecclesiology, a doctrine of the church. We all have beliefs or assumptions about what the church is, why it exists, and how it ought to function. Rarely do we pause, though, to think deeply about these things. Even among pastors, the incessant demands of ministry often pull us toward fixing urgent problems while neglecting larger questions. What does healthy pastoral ministry look like? What matters most in the life of my church? Am I shepherding God’s flock in a way that pleases him? In Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry, Geoffrey Chang shows why the 19th-century Baptist expositor should be regarded as more than ‘the Prince of Preachers’—he should be studied as an example of a faithful pastor. Chang—assistant professor of church history and historical theology and curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—contends there’s “no better model of faithful pastoral ministry and commitment to the local church” than Spurgeon (2).”


Wirzba - This Sacred Life“What in the World is the World?: A review of This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World” – Doug Sikkema in Front Porch Review: “In The Myths We Live By, the late Mary Midgley explores how we humans are deeply storied creatures. Myths—the grand narratives that give shape and meaning to our lives—tether us to each other, to time, to place. They tell us who we are, where we came from, how we might live and, possibly, why we are even here at all. One might think myths belong to that benighted classical world of pagan ritual or even that Dark Age of Christendom teeming with its irrational superstitions, but that’s only because, Midgley would argue, we’ve been held captive by another, more potent, set of stories….What is one to do? Perhaps one thing is that we can live by a better myth. Or perhaps recover such a story that’s been ignored and largely forgotten. This is what Norman Wirzba sets out to do in This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World. For Wirzba, a possible antidote for our dis-ease in the Anthropocene is to recover some of the essential pieces of the narrative, the lived mythology, of Christianity.”


005“London Goddess Purée: Is the celebration of ancient goddesses female empowerment or rank patriarchy?” – Matthew J. Milliner in Comment: “The British Museum has good reason to put together the exhibition Feminine Power. After all, when girls are actually being advised, with the full endorsement of the psychological and medical establishments, to surgically remove their breasts in an attempt to become male, misogyny has reached a new apogee. (See, for just one example, the harrowing interview recorded here.) Accordingly, any museum’s effort to signal the importance of being female should be welcomed. Clipboard-bearing curators at this show collect viewer responses and display them on a large screen. One of them boldly proclaims, ‘Woman, an adult human female,’ surely indicating this visitor knows that very definition is under baffling new attack. Even so, the subtitle of this particular show at the British Museum suggests problems: Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic. The images here gathered span epoch and geography, their only commonality being ‘profound influence on human lives, both past and present.’ Which is to say, every global goddess within reach has been thrown into the curatorial blender for this exhibition, and—not unlike the $25 smoothie I recently saw advertised and sampled in Los Angeles—the results are less than invigorating. And that may be part of the point.”


Music: The Porter’s Gate ft. Liz Vice, “Brother Sun (Giving Glory),” from Climate Vigil Songs

Your Pulse and Your Breath as Pathways to Prayer

Put two fingers on your neck
and feel your pulse—
the current of blood coursing life
from your heart throughout your body.
You did not think to your heart, “Beat!”,
or to your blood, “Move!”,
and yet here you are:
alive, upright, and living.
Quiet yourself amidst
the din of the world
and listen to your beating heart.
In every beat, God whispers,
“I love you! I love you!”

Pause and take in a deep breath
followed by a deep breath out.
Feel the air filter up your lungs
as you inhale
and carbon dioxide release
as you exhale.
You did not think to your lungs,
“Take it in! Let it out!”,
but instead you have been breathing
since you awoke and eve while you slept.
As you breathe in and out
rest in the breath of God,
Who made you and sustains you,
Who whispers in each breath,
“You are mine!”

Walking through this day
let each breath, in and out,
remind you of God’s gracious presence with you.
Let each heartbeat, thrumming through your body,
remind you of God’s loving presence with you.
These simple rhythms of the body,
persistently present in each day and minute,
become pathways of prayer in the everyday.
Let each breath and heartbeat whisper back to God,
“I, too, am Yours!”

Learning to be Silent :: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Tower of Babel”

Pieter Brueghel - Tower of Babel.jpg
Pieter Bruegel, De bouw van de toren van Babel; oil on panel; 1563.

Sin and temptation are funny things. They often disguise themselves in respectability and inventiveness that catch us off-guard at the last minute. Genesis 11 tells the story of a community’s effort to construct a great tower at a time when humanity shared common speech. The vision statement for the project was: “Building a tower to heaven to make our name great” (see Genesis 11:4). T-shirts and coffee mugs with the vision statement emblazoned on them were distributed all over town and the project commenced with great zeal. The only problem was that this effort was one more in a string of typical human aims to displace God and put humanity in His place. God will have none of it and stops everything before it reaches conclusion. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting shows the colossal effort involved in this project. The architecture intentionally reflects that of the Roman Colosseum, reminding the viewer that both Rome and Babylon were biblical cities representing prideful humanity’s stance against God. Already in the painting we can see some arches beginning to crumble. The tower’s construction cannot hold together architecturally just as pride in communities and individuals pulls against itself, ending in collapse. We’re told in Genesis that God set out to “confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (11:7). This may sounds harsh until we realize just how disastrously far human brokenness and sin can go when gathered together around collective endeavors. We read about it in our history books and today’s news: war and hatred, greed and emptiness, repression and injustice. The journey of Lent reminds us that this is not only true in history and in the news, but also in us. Lent teaches us to lay our pride down and learn to be quiet–even silent–before God.