The Weekend Wanderer: 26 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.

PF_10.17.19_rdd_update-00-020“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” – How many times have you heard about the decline of Christianity in the US in the past few years? More than you’d like to say, I would expect. There are some voices saying that the statistics speak to many other changes in culture, others the theological truth tells us something else, while other voices say the implications are not all bad. Here is the latest look at the data from the Pew Research Center on religion and public life. The bottom line: Christianity of every stripe is in decline in the US while the religiously unaffiliated (“religious nones”) are on the rise. What does this mean? Well, that is certainly a larger discussion that must take into account the nature of organized religion, shifts in social value of religion, shifts in social engagement as a whole in the US, and honesty about personal engagement within religion.

 

92589“Why We Still Prophesy Hope” – I have been involved here in Milwaukee with efforts to transform the racial divides both in our city and inside the church fellowships here. This type of work involves honest self-assessments, engaging with painful stories, encouraging those different from one another to journey together, and also somehow pointing to real change. It can be exhausting, humbling, and frustrating work at times. It is also hopeful work. Here is Dante Stewart speaking to that from his own journey and story.

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 9.38.10 AM“Accusing SBC of ‘caving,’ John MacArthur says of Beth Moore: ‘Go home'” – I first encountered the teaching of John MacArthur in probably the worst way possible. After coming to Christ through a charismatic renewal, someone shared MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos, with me in an attempt to fix my “bad” theology of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t work, but it did serve as a strange introduction to a renowned American Bible teacher. Since that time, others I respect helped me to appreciate certain aspects of MacArthur’s expository preaching ministry. Still, I have always struggled with his less than irenic approach to controversial issues. That was confirmed further when, at a celebration of fifty years of ministry, when MacArthur was asked to make word associations with certain theological issues or figures, he responded to “Beth Moore” with “Go home.” You can listen to the whole clip here. I have friends who do not support women in preaching or ordained ministry and we can have a healthy discussion about our differing views, but MacArthur’s sharp words do not seem helpful here. Beth Moore responded via Twitter, and others, such as Kay Warren and SBC President J. D. Greear, have weighed in. In many ways, this is nothing new for MacArthur, as Christianity Today highlighted, “John MacArthur Is No Stranger to Controversy.”

 

8rriw2o“Pilgrims, Priests, and Breaking Bread in an Alpine Monastery” – I’m not alone in thinking that there is not enough silence in our lives. Of course, the lack of external silence is often a reflection of the lack of internal silence in our lives. For me, drawing away from the noise, voices, and busyness regularly helps me to recovery my identity. I often do this in nature, but have at times gathered in spaces set apart for this, such as retreat houses, monasteries, or camps. Every once in awhile it’s refreshing to catch a view of this experience from someone with fresh eyes. Timothy Egan does just that as he relates his encounter with Ignatian spirituality, silence, space, and listening in a visit to the Great St. Bernard Hospice.

 

Columba Stewart“A Monk of the Secular Age” – Speaking of monks, why not read about the life of Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk who has traversed the world to help save and catalog ancient religious texts. Even finding himself in the midst of war zones, including Iraq, he has worked tirelessly to gather and digitize these texts to preserve them and make them accessible to scholars and the broader world. This reminds us of the historic efforts of monasticism to preserve works that would otherwise be lost, giving us links to earlier eras and societies that have formed the history of thought in ways we should not underestimate.

 

St Lydias Brooklyn“Dinner Church, anyone?” – What is church? How should we live together as church? These questions repeat in discussions again and again. They are not new, but they always bring new answers within the changing context of human culture and social experience. I was talking with a friend over lunch just over a week ago, and we shared our own thoughts about these questions. When I read this article by Michael Frost, I was reminded of some of that discussion, because this very idea had popped up there. I’m not really into pursuing fads in church models, but Frost’s exploration and sharing of examples is thought-provoking. Here’s Frost: “So, what is dinner church? Well, it’s dinner. And church. Scrunched together. But there’s so much more to it than that. Here’s a few dinner churches from around the world to give you a little taste.”

 

Music: Mavis Staples, “You Are Not Alone,” from You Are Not Alone (written by Jeff Tweedy)

[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: 6 April 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.

Prof_EvelyneReisacher“In Memoriam: Evelyne Reisacher” – “It is with deep sadness that we inform the Fuller community of the passing of our dear colleague, Evelyne Reisacher, on March 30, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. Evelyne was a beloved faculty member in the School of Intercultural Studies serving as associate professor of Islamic studies and intercultural relations. Her dear friend for more than 40 years, Fuller alumna Farida Saidi, was by her side when she died. We give thanks for her life as a joyful witness to the love of Christ for the world.”

 

28brooksWeb-superJumbo“Longing for an Internet Cleanse” – Here is David Brooks reflecting on the need for slowing down in the midst of a fast-paced and ravenously informed culture. “There is a rapid, dirty river of information coursing through us all day. If you’re in the news business, or a consumer of the news business, your reaction to events has to be instant or it is outdated. If you’re on social media, there are these swarming mobs who rise out of nowhere, leave people broken and do not stick around to perform the patient Kintsugi act of gluing them back together.” That last reference is to the Japanese art-form of Kintsugi. Brooks reflects on this all through the lense of artist Makoto Fujimura, whose work I have featured more than once on my blog.

 

5A6843CD-0320-4298-848EB265514F97F7_source“Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” – This public service announcement is brought to you by English majors (like me). “How important is reading fiction in socializing school children? Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” So, how do we raise empathy levels in our society? At least one option is to go out and read some good fiction.

 

Moby Dick“Reading Moby Dick with Marilynne Robinson – Since we’re talking about reading good fiction, I figured I should make a confession. When I graduated from college as an English literature major, there were a number of “great novels” I had never read. One of them was Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. About ten years ago, I set out to read this great American novel and, to be honest, I really did not like it. I apologize to those of you who love it. However, here comes Drew Bratcher to the rescue by sharing how a class he took on Moby-Dick at the University of Iowa taught by Marilynne Robinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, transformed his reading of Moby-Dick. Maybe it will for you, too.

 

WSH_ABORTION“Abortion will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now”Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books and Professor of English at Liberty University, addresses one of the divisive issues of our age. “Nothing marks the progress of any society more than the expansion of human rights to those who formerly lacked them. I believe that if such progress is to continue, prenatal human beings will be included in this group, and we will consider elective abortion primitive and cruel in the future.”

 

mar17-17-quiet-1200x675“The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time” – We’re not just talking about a religious “quiet time,” but restorative stillness and silence. This article from Harvard Business Review  challenges our multi-sensory busy culture. “In a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that serious thinkers and writers should get off Twitter….He’s in good company. Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung have all had disciplined practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Ray Dalio, Bill George, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan have also described structured periods of silence as important factors in their success.”

 

89924“Transhumanism and the Cult of ‘Better, Faster, Stronger’” – Andy Crouch reviews two books on transhumanism in Christianity Today. “Amid the pop-culture detritus of my childhood, one unforgettable fragment is the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. For the children of the 1970s, Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) was our first cyborg, fitted with a “bionic” eye and limbs after a nearly fatal accident. Every episode began by retelling his origin story, as a voiceover intoned: ‘We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.’ Those opening lines have stuck with me. They were a kind of boyhood liturgy—a ritual repeated weekly as I watched the latest episode. They compress into a few sentences a great deal of what makes technology the central ideology of our age.”

 

Music: Third Coast Percussion, “Paddle to the Sea – Act I”

 

[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.]

Excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart

The Way of the Heart - NouwenDuring my sabbatical, I re-read a book for the fifth time. That’s not a very common occurrence for me, but Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is that sort of book for me. As I was looking through my sabbatical journals, I found excerpts from this book over a long stretch. So, as much for me as for anyone else, I am pulling them all together here in one place. Maybe one or two will particularly impact you. If so, I’d love to hear from you about that. If not, well, there are certain books that speak to us in ways that no one else understands. Since I first read this during college, The Way of the Heart has helped an active achiever like me step into the silence and stillness with God.

Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self (26).

Ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord (31).

The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in him shall we find the rest we seek. It is therefore to solitude that we must return, not alone, but with all those whom we embrace through our ministry (40).

As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a grace of the Holy Spirit (56).

In order to be a ministry in the Name of Jesus, our ministry must also point beyond our words to the unspeakable mystery of God (59).

The question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence (65).

Hesychia, the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world is alluring, and the demons noisy (70).

‘To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.’ – Theophan the Recluse (76).

They [the Desert Fathers and Mothers] pull us away from our intellectualizing practices, in which God becomes one of the many problems we have to address. They show us that real prayer penetrates to the marrow of our soul and leaves nothing untouched (78).

 

The Holy Pursuit of the Hidden God

IMG_1817To enter into the stillness of God and to attend to the silence of God requires patience. God is not a Labrador retriever who comes when we call. God is like the rain that comes when it will, whether the grass is green or the crops are failing. While it is true that, as Jesus said, if we ask it will be given and if we seek we will find and if we knock the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8), but the timing of the giving, the finding, and the opening is not supplied to us. That it will happen is guaranteed, but the when of that event is not determined by the one who asks. Rather, it is in the hands of the One who gives, reveals and opens.

This is at least part of the meaning of Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” So, too, the words of 2 Peter 3:8-9, which address the timing of the parousia, are relevant to this discussion:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It is actually the patience of God that causes the delay here, motivated by the love of God over repentant human lives. This reminds us that the distance of God, whether measured in space or time, aims to stir us up toward repentance. The meaning of repentance is richer than simply asking forgiveness from sins, or even turning away from sin. The Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, which throughout the Hebrew Bible means to return relationally to God (Hosea 14:1-3; Zephaniah 2:1-3). The distance of God, even the apparent hiddenness of God — those times when God seems to play hide-and-seek with us — is intended to make us long for God even more. It is a longing that should grip us to the point where our souls are dehydrated with longing for our God. This is the thrust of Psalm 42:1-2:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

“Clouds and thick darkness surround him” (Psalm 97:2) not in order to keep us away but in order to incite our desire for Him even more. It is a desire marked by fervent longing that is evident throughout the Psalms (e.g., 42, 63), but it is also more than that.

It is the naivety and dependence witnessed in a child (Psalm 131; Luke 18:15-17). This desire is the last chance of desperation by those who are sick and in need (2 Kings 5; Luke 8:40-56; 17:11-19; 18:35-43). Nothing and no one else can satisfy this desire. It is the desire that keeps us awake at night, singing songs of longing for God (Psalm 77). It is the desire that sends shivers of regret through our souls over the sin and brokenness clinging to us (Psalm 51, 80). This longing burns brighter and stronger, making even the smallest taste of God more satisfying than all other goods or pursuits in life (Psalm 84:1-2, 10). We are spurred on by the promise of God’s glorious presence ahead of us:

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

It is this longing that sets us on a journey with a focused destination. As in the Psalms of Ascent, we are spurred on from faraway lands to return to the center of all our hopes and joys, which are only satisfied in a holy, loving God. All the distance, all the stillness, all the silence cannot hold us back from giving all for the sake of that holy pursuit.

Transfigured

jesus-on-the-move-series-gfx_app-wide

This weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series, “Jesus on the Move,” with a messaged entitled, “Transfigured” from Luke 9:28-36. This event conveys both the beautiful and dangerous glory of Jesus’ true nature as fully God and fully man. The silence of the disciples at the end of it all echoes our own call to silence before the only awesome God in Jesus Christ. As the prophet Habakkuk writes:

The Lord is in His holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20)

You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Also, join in with the weekday reading plan for this series here.

The Glorious Unveiling (Luke 9:28-31)

Jesus’ glory

Jesus’ companions

Jesus’ exodus

 

The Glorious Overwhelming (Luke 9:32-33)

Shocked awake

Peter’s desire to build shelters

 

The Glorious Voice (Luke 9:34-35)

The cloud

The voice

 

The Glorious Silence (Luke 9:36; Habakkuk 2:20)

The awe-filled silence

The untold story

 

Solitude and Silence

This post continues my reflections on Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Here, I look at two disciplines of abstinence that are critical to our entry into the deeper life with God are solitude and silence.

Solitude
Solitude is our intentional choice to step away from interaction with others, whether in person or in other forms of communication. Solitude is abstaining from companionship. Jesus did this throughout his life, as the gospels attest. We read about his practice most pointedly in Luke 4-5, where, after a jam-packed days of ministry to others, he draws away.

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place (4:42).
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayer (5:16).

In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard says: “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops” (161).

Solitude is a place to explore our isolation from others, to cling to Christ, and to be strengthened for His service.

Silence
As you might expect, silence is the discipline whereby we step away from sound. In a culture that is sound-saturated, from iPods to noisy traffic, it is important for us to set aside time apart from the external clutter of sounds.

It is amazing how infrequently we experience quiet. Even the places and times that we describe as quiet, we are often saturated with ambient noise.

This discipline clearly connects with the discipline of solitude. We choose to not only be alone, but to be alone without speaking and in a place of quiet.

Silence is a place where we return to God for our reassurance and approval.

What is your experience of solitude and silence as means for connecting more deeply with God?