The Weekend Wanderer: 5 February 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 the articles


Mission Nexus - Black Missionary Heroes“Black History Month Devotional Series: Black Missionary Heroes – Past and Present – Missio Nexus: “In celebration of Black History Month this devotional plan gives insight into the contributions made by African Americans Missionaries throughout history leading to present day. These unsung heroes of faith have discipled nations, planted churches, and preached the gospel under the most adverse conditions. Read their stories and the passages of scripture that highlight their faith and commitment in creating gospel movements within neighborhoods and nations. These profiles and devotionals are provided by Ambassadors Fellowship Inc. and the National African American Missions Council.”


00Syria-Christians-02-superJumbo“‘Now There Is No One’: The Lament of One of the Last Christians in a Syrian City” – Hwaida Saad, Asmaa al-Omar and Ben Hubbard in The New York Times: “On Christmas Day, Michel Butros al-Jisri, one of the last Christians in the Syrian city of Idlib, didn’t attend services, because the Islamist rebels who control the area had long since locked up the church. Nor did he gather with friends and relatives to celebrate around a tree because nearly all of his fellow Christians have either died or fled during Syria’s 10-year civil war. Instead, Mr. al-Jisri said, he went to the city’s Christian cemetery, which no one uses anymore, to sit among the graves of his forebears and mark the day quietly, by himself. ‘Who am I going to celebrate the holiday with? The walls?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want to celebrate if I am alone.’ Mr. al-Jisri, who is 90, stooped and almost deaf but still fairly robust, is a living relic of one of the many formerly vibrant Christian communities in the Middle East that appear headed for extinction. Communities across the Middle East and North Africa — some of which trace their roots to Christianity’s early days — have been struggling for decades with wars, poverty and persecution. A British government report in 2019 found that Christians in the Middle East and North Africa had fallen to less than 4 percent of the population from more than 20 percent a century ago.”


henry-nouwen“Attentiveness, Prayer, and Solitude in Community: What are the spiritual practices that keep a community and its members alive?” – Henri J. M. Nouwen in Plough: “How do we put into place the disciplines that are required to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, whether for individuals or communities? The core word is attentiveness. Be attentive, be alert, be awake. Be ready. Listen. The discipline is to be attentive to where conversion is needed. It’s not just an outer call; it comes from within. How can we stay in touch with the longing, with the desire for conversion? A lot of people I know have no desire to be converted whatsoever. The fact that you want to be converted is in itself a sign that there is something you long for that you know you are missing. And if you really do live the tension, you are living in a state of longing. If you don’t have any tension, if you don’t have any longing, you become like many people who finally end up flat and bored. Routine is all there is. Nothing excites me. Nothing really gives me life. And a lot of people live like that. So be attentive. Attentiveness is the inner goal of conversion. It has to do with attentiveness to the voice of God in your life of prayer.”


Van Gogh - The Sower“Van Gogh’s God” – Peter J. Leithart in First Things: “As I wound my way through the immersive Beyond Van Gogh exhibit at the Birmingham Jefferson County Civic Center a few days after Christmas, a question kept nagging. What did Vincent see when he gazed at the world? What experiences or ideas lurk behind his swirling skies, his screaming colors, his darkly outlined but often featureless human figures? At times, I thought I caught hints of terror in the desperation of his empty Night Café (1888) and the nightmarish flickering of trees. Vincent was institutionalized more than once. Are his paintings projections of inner turbulence?  Not according to the painter. In letters, Van Gogh claimed he tried to capture the incandescent beauty of nature, radiant with a glory beyond nature. But even a modestly theological description of Van Gogh’s work will provoke protests. After theological training and a stint ministering among the poor, Vincent turned from the Dutch Calvinism of his parents. He abandoned the church after his pastoral call wasn’t renewed, scorned the religious art of his contemporaries, and almost never painted biblical scenes.”


127563“Miracles Don’t Violate the Laws of Nature” – Craig Keener in Christianity Today: “Why do many people embrace a worldview that won’t even consider evidence for miracles? Sometimes they assume that science opposes miracles, but that assumption goes back not to scientific inquiry itself but to an 18th-century philosopher. Knowingly or unknowingly, many people have followed the thesis of Scottish skeptic David Hume (1711–1776). Hume was probably the most prominent philosopher of his generation, and surely the most influential from his time on subsequent generations. He wrote on a wide variety of topics, sometimes very insightfully but sometimes (as with his ethnocentric approach to history) in ways that would not be accepted today. Hume’s intellectual stature, earned from other works, eventually lent credibility to his 1748 essay on miracles. In this essay, Hume dismisses the credibility of miracle claims, appealing to ‘natural law’ and uniform human experience. Although an appeal to natural law might sound scientific, Hume was not a scientist; in fact, some of his views on causation would make scientific inquiry impossible. Hume’s essay on miracles also contradicts his own approach to discovering knowledge. Moreover, Hume’s essay has generated serious intellectual counterarguments since the time it was first published. One of these counterarguments was history’s first public use of Bayes’ theorem, today an essential staple in statistics.”


chamber-church-by-buro-ziyu-zhuang-qingdao_dezeen_2364_col_19-852x1278“White-metal fins form abstract exterior of Büro Ziyu Zhuang’s Chamber Church” – Alyn Griffiths in de zeen: “German-Chinese architecture practice Büro Ziyu Zhuang has completed a church in Qingdao, China, featuring walls and a tower made from dozens of spaced-out aluminium ribs. Büro Ziyu Zhuang designed the Chamber Church as part of Chinese property developer Sunac’s Aduo Town project in the Qingdao Zangma Mountain Tourism Resort. The church is positioned at the edge of a public plaza connecting it with other nearby amenities. When viewed from the plaza, the forested mountains form a dramatic natural backdrop. The architects claimed that the building combines a religious experience with secular attitude, explaining that the church ‘aims to create a spatial container that both respects the past and looks towards the future.'”


Music: Bifrost Arts [feat. Molly Parden], “Psalm 126,” from He Will Not Cry Out: Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Vol. 2

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 January 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 the articles


173811“Mosaic made by freed slave to thank God found in Turkey’s Hatay” – Anadolu Agency in Daily Sabah: “A mosaic made by a freed slave to thank God for his emancipation was unearthed during the excavation at the 6th-century Church of the Holy Apostles in southern Hatay province. The Church of the Holy Apostles was found in an orange grove in the Arpaçiftlik neighborhood by Mehmet Keleş in 2007. After Keleş recognized historical artifacts while planting orange saplings in the grove, archaeological digs were launched in the area. With the disclosure of mosaics, animal figures, stone graves and bone remains, expert teams determined that the area was a church and its name was the Church of the Holy Apostles. While digs continue in the historical church, archaeologists have recently found an area with a mosaic. The mosaic with a peacock figure also features an inscription in which a slave thanked God after being freed.”


joy-ike-007-980x551“Grow Deep, Not Wide: The art of nurturing the life that really is life.” – Joy Ike in Comment: “This summer, while on my porch, I experienced a drive-by shooting for the first time. Germantown, my beloved neighbourhood here in Philadelphia, has probably been like most inner-city neighbourhoods this past year: destitute, depressed, run down, pressure-cooked. I live on a high-traffic street and a block or two from the dividing line of what would be considered ‘safe Germantown’ and ‘unsafe Germantown.’ On one side of my house is my neighbour, who has become a dear friend and a teammate of sorts: we hope together. On the other side is an abandoned house by the corner, and beside that, a street that has become known as the local epicentre of crime and drug dealing. We’ll call it ‘T Street.’ As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, I’ve watched as the drug culture has slowly turned the bend and crept around my street corner, like a shadow trying to cover more territory. And this is where my pandemic story begins.”


127321“Christians Are Going Back to Church—But Maybe Not the Same One” – Melissa Morgan Kelley in Christianity Today: “Houston Northwest Church suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. By the time its flooded facilities were finally rebuilt a couple years ago, the congregation was only back at full capacity for six weeks before services were shut down by the pandemic. As the church endured one setback after another, senior pastor Steve Bezner has seen the flock ebb and flow. ‘About a third of our congregation worshiping in person are new faces,’ he said. His church currently draws 1,600 attendees each week, including several hundred viewing online—not far from its pre-pandemic weekly average of 1,700. Bezner marvels at the number of members who left during the pandemic and the number of new people who have showed up to take their place. ‘It will make you believe in the preservation of the Holy Spirit,’ the Houston pastor said. Member turnover is as common to the life cycle of a church as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But the pandemic has accelerated people’s comings and goings and has required new strategies to welcome and assimilate new members into the church community.”


CB019074“The Gift of Being Yourself” – David G. Benner in Conversatio: “We all live life searching for that one possible way of being that carries with it the gift of authenticity. We are often most conscious of this search for identity during adolescence, when it takes front stage for most people. At this stage of life, we try on identities like clothing, looking for a style of being that fits with how we want to be seen. But long after adolescence has passed, most adults know the occasional feeling of being a fraud—a sense of not being what they pretend to be, but rather being precisely what they pretend not to be. With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks that we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability, but which have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle so easily for pretense and a truly authentic self often seems elusive. There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip. Beneath the roles and masks lies a possibility of a self that is as distinctive as a snowflake. It is an originality that has existed since God first loved us into existence. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity. It and it alone provides an identity that is eternal.”


sound of metal“Picturing Silence: Stillness in Sound of Metal” – James K. A. Smith in Image: “For me, one of the gifts of contemporary art is precisely its difficulty. A subtle blessing of such art—whether painting or poetry—is that it demands something of me, and above all it demands that I make myself available for contemplation. This is because such art does not yield easily accessible nuggets of sentiment or pleasure. But its difficulty harbors an invitation. In its refusal to be immediately available to surface attention, it suggests that I might attend to my world differently. Rather than just offering emotion or decoration or a ‘statement,’ the best contemporary art asks me to slow the frenetic pace of incessant distraction to pause and dwell. It requires a stillness that already verges on the spiritual. One of the most convicting pictures I’ve seen of such spiritual stillness was Darius Marder’s recent film, Sound of Metal. The film follows the harrowing journey of Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who experiences catastrophic hearing loss as a young man. What is unique about the movie is its sonic environment, the way the soundtrack invites us in and out of Ruben’s own point of—not view, but hearing. The opening scene is an overwhelming, alienating wall of sound. Four minutes in, you’ll be wondering if you can stay much longer. Then, in scenes from the next morning, the world’s quiet pleasures are a chorus: the crisp, gentle tinkling of cutlery; the drip of a coffee maker; rustling sheets upon waking and the gentle intimacy of a kiss.”


smarphone dump“The people deciding to ditch their smartphones” – Suzanne Bearne at the BBC: “In a world where many of us are glued to our smartphones, Dulcie Cowling is something of an anomaly – she has ditched hers. The 36-year-old decided at the end of last year that getting rid of her handset would improve her mental health. So, over Christmas she told her family and friends that she was switching to an old Nokia phone that could only make and receive calls and text messages. She recalls that one of the pivotal moments that led to her decision was a day at the park with her two boys, aged six and three: “I was on my mobile at a playground with the kids and I looked up and every single parent – there was up to 20 – were looking at their phones, just scrolling away,” she says. “I thought ‘when did this happen?’. Everyone is missing out on real life. I don’t think you get to your death bed and think you should have spent more time on Twitter, or reading articles online.” Ms Cowling, who is a creative director at London-based advertising agency Hell Yeah!, adds that the idea to abandon her smartphone had built up during the Covid lockdowns.”


Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, “The Road,” The Road Original Film Score

Mistaken Identity

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I continued our new preaching series, “Who Do You Say I Am?”, by looking at a strange episode in Matthew 14:1-13 on the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas. This passage has import for revealing Jesus’ identity and also gives us insight into the life of discipleship.

This message is part of the sixth part of our longer series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom.”

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants,
‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead!’” (Matthew 14:1-2)

Jesus Mistaken for John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-2)

Reports about Jesus reach Herod Antipas

The similar ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist

Herod Antipas’ similar concerns about Jesus and John

John the Baptist Crashes Herod’s Party (Matthew 14:3-12)

John speaks truth about Herod’s actions

Herod’s party and family drama

John’s brutal death at Herod’s hands

Jesus Withdraws (Matthew 14:13)

Withdrawing from Herod Antipas and the crowds

Withdrawing with the apostles and to be with the Father


Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize John’s message in Matthew 3:2
  • Journal, draw, paint, or ink this story as a way of reflecting on how you see Jesus and who Jesus really is to you.
  • Read more about John the Baptist’s life in the following passages:
  • Luke 1:5-25, 39-80
  • Luke 3:1-20
  • Matthew 3:1-12
  • John 1:6-8, 19-34
  • John 3:22-36
  • Matthew 11:1-19
  • Matthew 14:1-12
  • Mark 6:14-29
  • Matthew 17:11-13; 21:32
  • Read more about Herod Antipas here or here.

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 May 2021

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 the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Marva Dawn“Remembering Marva Dawn, a Saint of Modern Worship” – I first encountered the writings of Marva Dawn while preparing for ministry at Northern Theological Seminary. That is also where I also first heard her in person at a conference organized by Bob Webber, a friend and mentor during those days before Bob’s passing in 2007. Her books Sexual Character, Truly the Community, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, and Keeping the Sabbath Wholly have influenced me significantly. Here is a tribute to Marva Dawn by Mike Cosper at Christianity Today. “When a mentor saw me struggling with worship in our fledging church plant, he handed me a copy of Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship in this Urgent Time. I wondered what a Lutheran and a lover of historic worship practices would have to say to a congregation whose traditions came more from indie rock shows than any church.”


refugee resettlement“Biden raises refugee ceiling, and faith-based groups brace for rebuilding work” – From Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins at Religion News: “Faith-based refugee resettlement groups are celebrating President Joe Biden’s decision to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. for the remainder of the federal fiscal year to 62,500, even as they acknowledge that they need to rebuild their capacity after years of cuts under the previous administration. The announcement from the Biden White House comes after significant pushback from the faith-based groups that form the backbone of the nation’s refugee resettlement program after the president signed a memorandum last month aimed at speeding up refugee admissions that did not touch the historic low set by former President Donald Trump.”


Fleming Rutledge“The Body of Christ in an Empire of Lies” and “On writing political sermons” – In these two posts, seasoned pastor and theologian, Fleming Rutledge, offers some pointed and poignant advice to pastors for the current moment. Rutledge is perhaps best known for her masterful work, The Crucifixion: Understanding the death of Jesus Christ, which has won acclaim from across the theological spectrum (see this, this, or this). Whether you agree or disagree with her, Rutledge’s commentary and advice in these posts is worth reading and grappling with, something I continue to do as a pastor and preacher in these divisive and challenging days.


madmenThe Spirituality of Solitude: In the Poverty of Solitude All Riches Are Present” – Ben Self at Mockingbird: “In a post a couple weeks ago, I used the paintings of Edward Hopper to suggest that there is an important difference between loneliness and solitude, and that despite our understandable exhaustion with the loneliness of these times, we may strangely come to miss certain aspects of solitude when this pandemic is over. But what is it, more specifically, we might miss?…On the one hand, we most naturally try to remedy the pain of being alone — our loneliness — through contact with others. But paradoxically, we also seek to remedy that same basic pain — but the pain of being separate from God — through solitude, separation from others. Thus, it is our very loneliness that can drive us both into the arms of others and away from others into solitude, to spaces where we might be ‘alone with the Alone.'”


Barons - memory reading“Why we remember more by reading – especially print – than from audio or video” – Linguistics professor Naomi S. Baron in The Conversation: “During the pandemic, many college professors abandoned assignments from printed textbooks and turned instead to digital texts or multimedia coursework. As a professor of linguistics, I have been studying how electronic communication compares to traditional print when it comes to learning. Is comprehension the same whether a person reads a text onscreen or on paper? And are listening and viewing content as effective as reading the written word when covering the same material? The answers to both questions are often ‘no,’ as I discuss in my book How We Read Now, released in March 2021. The reasons relate to a variety of factors, including diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset and a tendency to multitask while consuming digital content.”


kovacs-1“Underwater Photos Taken During Blackwater Dives Frame the Atlantic Ocean’s Stunning Diversity” – Grace Ebert at Colossal: “After sunset, self-taught photographer Steven Kovacs plunges into the open ocean around Palm Beach to shoot the minuscule, unassuming creatures floating in the depths. He’s spent the last eight years on blackwater dives about 730 feet off the eastern coast of Florida in a process that ‘entails drifting near the surface at night from 0 to 100 feet over very deep water.’ Often framing species rarely seen by humans, Kovac shoots the larval fish against the dark backdrop in a way that highlights the most striking aspects of their bodies, including wispy, translucent fins, iridescent features, and bulbous eyes.”


Music: Jpk. (feat. Solar. & I. Erickson), “By Your Side”

A Prayer for Stillness (with a word from Thomas à Kempis)

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
to love what I ought to love,
to praise what delights Thee most,
to value what is precious in Thy sight,
to hate what is offensive to Thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
but to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
and above all always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Thy will.

— Thomas à Kempis

Still me, my God.
Quiet me.

All the raging thoughts and twisted times.
Bring me back to You.
Reorient my soul to You.

All the confusion and misdirection—
May my hunger be for You.

My divided self and these divided days—
May my rest be in You.

Quiet me.
Still me, my God.