The Weekend Wanderer: 11 September 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.


“In Search of a Truly Good News Faith” – Vince Bacote in Comment: “The problem of dissonance between ‘our people’ and ‘the others’ has been with us since the Fall. The lingering and stubborn challenge of race is a particularly acute example, and the evangelical movement has not escaped its thorns. How might this “good news” tradition better address this challenge? Let’s first discuss the label. American evangelicalism really took off in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and distilled Christianity to four essentials: the authority of the Bible, personal conversion experiences, salvation by Christ’s work on the cross, and an active life of faith expressed in mission and personal piety. Though both the evangelical movement and its theology have aspired to a model of complete fidelity to these essentials, the record has been mixed. As an African American who has inhabited the evangelical ethos since my time as an undergraduate, I have great appreciation for the commitment to biblical truth and efforts to encourage a serious faith that aspires to heed to the full sweep of God’s revelation. I am also acutely aware of its unfulfilled promise.”


“Our Theology of Prayer Matters More than Our Feelings” – Kristen Deede Johnson in Christianity Today: “For a season in my Christian life, I was known as the go-to person on prayer. If you had a prayer request, you could rest assured that I’d add you to my list and pray for you every morning in my quiet time. For years, a day had not gone by without me spending intentional time in prayer. If you asked me what I’d do if I was tired or discouraged, I’d have told you—in all honesty—that I found nothing more refreshing or encouraging than getting on my knees and praying….And then one day, without warning, reason, or explanation, that sense of sweet intimacy was gone. The life of prayer that I’d spent years cultivating appeared to vanish. My very relationship with God seemed threatened.”


“Orthodox church destroyed in 9/11 being rebuilt as ‘cenotaph’ to those killed” – John Lavenburg in Crux: “With less than a year left in the reconstruction of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, Michael Psaros foresees a church that honors the lives that were lost during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York. The original church was destroyed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. ‘St. Nicholas Shrine is a cenotaph to the 3,000 people that were murdered, martyred and killed on that day,’ Psaros told Crux. ‘At ground zero today you have the museums, you have the reflecting pools, but now you have faith. You have this magnificent structure whose doors will be open to people of all faiths around the world.'”


First Nations Version“First Nations Version translates the New Testament for Native American readers” – Emily McFarlan Miller at Religion News Service: “It’s a Bible verse familiar to many Christians — and even to many non-Christians who have seen John 3:16 on billboards and T-shirts or scrawled across eye black under football players’ helmets. But Terry Wildman hopes the new translation published Tuesday (Aug. 31) by InterVarsity Press, “First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament,” will help Christians and Indigenous peoples read it again in a fresh way. ‘The Great Spirit loves this world of human beings so deeply he gave us his Son — the only Son who fully represents him. All who trust in him and his way will not come to a bad end, but will have the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony,’ reads the First Nations Version of the verse.”


Evangelical Church“I Won’t Kiss Evangelicalism Goodbye” – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition: “To me, the most powerful moment so far in Mike Cosper’s podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill comes near the end of Josh Harris’ deconversion story, when Ted Olsen, executive editor at Christianity Today, reflects on his disappointment and sadness in covering so many fallen leaders in recent years. ‘It hits you in the gut every time,’ he says. At one point, having seen more and more ugly truths come to light, Ted looked out over the evangelical landscape and asked: ‘Are there any Christians? Are there real Christians? Are there Christians who believe this stuff and act on it? Or are most people doing this just as a grift or because they’ve been grifted?’ As someone who, like Ted, has sometimes seen the underbelly of hypocrisy in the church, I have felt a similar sense of disappointment and disillusionment. But lately, that sentiment hasn’t been due only to the moral failure of leaders but also to the inability or unwillingness of many influential voices to recognize and pass on the riches of the evangelical heritage we’ve received.”


Marino_Last Word“The Why & the How: Approaching life’s horizon” – Gordon Marino in Commonweal: “‘If we have our own “why” in life, we shall get along with almost any “how.”‘ In his famous Holocaust survival memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl cites this quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Frankl explains that he did not follow his fellow inmates who took their lives by running into the electric barbed-wire fences because he kept alive the hope of being reunited with his recent bride, Tilly. Unbeknownst to Frankl, there would be no reunion with his beloved. She, along with both of Frankl’s parents, was turned into smoke and ashes in the death camps. Elaborating on Nietzsche’s wisdom, Frankl writes: ‘A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”‘ Take note of Frankl’s ‘almost.’ Now, in my own fifth act, I look back and shake my head in wonder at how I survived some of my travails, many of them self-inflicted and none of them on the order of what Frankl suffered. But he and Nietzsche were right: when you are slipping into the abyss, purpose is a life raft, one that I clutched.”


Music: Bruce Cockburn, “Pacing the Cage,” from The Charity of Night.

Real Spirituality: three vital spiritual practices

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 6:1-18. This passage builds on the earlier teaching by Jesus about surpassing righteousness (see “Real Righteousness”) by exploring three vital practices for spiritual growth: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:1)

Who Are We Living For?: The Audience of Our Righteousness (6:1)

  • Practicing, or doing, righteousness
  • The assumption: “When you give to the needy…and when you pray…when you fast” (6:2, 5, 16)
  • The hypocrites and their audience: “in front of others to be seen by them”
  • The real righteous and their audience: the Father
  • A word about “reward”

Giving to the Needy (6:2-4)

  • The way of deficient righteousness: announcing it for honor
  • The way of surpassing righteousness: secrecy in giving that gives for the Father

Prayer (6:5-15)

  • The way of deficient righteousness: public prayer to be seen by other or babbling prayer in hopes of being heard
  • The way of surpassing righteousness: secrecy in prayer and few words in prayer that rests in the Father
  • A pattern for prayer
  • Forgiveness and prayer

Fasting (6:16-18)

  • The way of deficient righteousness: looking somber so others see it
  • The way of surpassing righteousness: secrecy in fasting that hungers for the Father

Practicing Real Spirituality as Disciples of Jesus

  • Disciples put real righteousness into practice with real spirituality
  • Disciples practice real spirituality with secrecy and hiddenness
  • Disciples practice real spirituality for an audience of One

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching on real spirituality in one or more of the following ways:

Discipline is the Price of Freedom

discipline

I came across this excerpt from D. Elton Trueblood’s 1970 book The New Man for Our Time on the topic of spiritual discipline. It caught my attention as I continue to give attention to the disciplines of grace necessary for us to grow in the spiritual life, drawing upon the influence of writers like Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, as well as other spiritual writers of much earlier eras and today.

When we begin to ask what the conditions of inner renewal are, we receive essentially the same answers from nearly all of those whom we have most reason to respect. One major answer is the emphasis upon discipline. In the conduct of one’s own life it is soon obvious, as many have learned the hard way, that empty freedom is a snare and a delusion. In following what comes naturally or easily, life simply ends in confusion, and in consequent disaster. Without the discipline of time, we spoil the next day the night before, and without the discipline of prayer, we are likely to end by having practically no experience of the divine-human encounter. However compassionate we may be with others, we dare not be soft or indulgent with ourselves. Excellence comes at a price, and one of the major prices is that of inner control.

We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom, to the effect that we are most free when we are bound. But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matter is the character of our binding. The one who would like to be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and by abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or the track. His failure to train rigorously and to live abstemiously denies him the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance. With one concerted voice the giants of the devotional life apply the same principle to the whole of life with the dictum: Discipline is the price of freedom.

[From D. Elton Trueblood, The New Man for Our Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).]

It Needs to Get Inside of You: Eugene Peterson on the Spiritual Disciplines

peterson-square1One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson. Peterson is best known as the author behind the paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. As a pastor, his works on pastoral ministry for our contemporary era, such as Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral IntegrityFive Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work and Under the Unpredictable Plant, are unparalleled. In the midst of my ongoing exploration about spiritual practices for pursuing the deep life with God, I unexpectedly came across these reflections on the idea of spiritual disciplines that I wanted to share. This is taken from an interview with Image. Peterson gets it right here, I believe, because he cautions against over-ownership of our efforts in growth, even though he acknowledges the importance of spiritual practices in our transformation into Christlikeness.

Image: This may be an audacious question, but what spiritual disciplines do you observe?

Eugene Peterson: I read scripture slowly. I pray. I worship….

A caveat about the disciplines: I’m uneasy about the word discipline. It’s a useful word, which Richard Foster has brought back into the Protestant vocabulary. But in practice it often encourages people to take charge of their own spirituality. When you practice a discipline, you’re doing something. There’s not much relaxation. There’s not much letting go. Some people say to me, “You’re such a disciplined person.” I ran marathons for twenty years, but it wasn’t a discipline. I loved it. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I have the same feeling about reading scripture, prayer, worship.

I was talking just this last week to a retired businessman. He led Bible studies for most of his life, but at some point he realized that he wasn’t getting it inside of him. He went to his pastor for advice, but his pastor couldn’t really help. So on his own, without any direction, he developed a system of lectio divina, almost exactly the way the books tell you how. He compiled huge notebooks of meditation and reflection on scripture. He told me he’d been doing this for ten years, that he’d wake up at five-thirty in the morning and he couldn’t wait to start. It wasn’t a discipline. It simply got inside of him.

Unhurry Your Life: a review of John Mark Comer’s ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’

JMC The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Waterbrook, 2019)

I still remember the time I read a line that changed my life: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”[1] I was a pastor in urban Milwaukee, working with college students. I was reluctantly leading student leaders through a study of John Ortberg’s popular book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Zondervan, 2002). I say reluctantly because I had—and probably still have—a natural aversion to anything that seems widely popular. You can call it a failing, because it probably is, but it’s there all the same.

When I read that phrase, I realized two things. First, Ortberg’s work was so attractive because we all can relate to the way he talks about spiritual growth in our everyday lives: we want it, but it sometimes seems so out of reach. Second, Ortberg had a mentor of great depth in Dallas Willard, author of many weighty books on spiritual growth such as The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life with God, who spoke that powerful line about hurry into Ortberg’s life. In fact, John Ortberg would go on to sometimes describe his ministry and The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Dallas for Dummies,” which appropriately helps us understand how challenging some of Willard’s writing can be, but probably undersells the significance of Ortberg’s work.

After encountering Willard’s advice to Ortberg about ruthlessly eliminating hurry, I immediately began to consider what that would mean for me at that time as a husband, a father of three young children, and a college pastor burning the candle at both ends. I made some changes then, and a good part of it was based on what I read by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster while new in my faith and during my own college years. One thing I figured out was that I would need to continually learn and re-learn what it means to live at a slower pace than the world around me in order to walk with God and minister out of the overflow of my own life with God.

eliminate hurry.001Fast-forward to this past year, when I posted that same quote from Willard on Twitter and a friend reached out to ask me if I had read John Mark Comer’s recent book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World.  Truth be told, I had not heard of the book, but was familiar with Comer, author and pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland. I picked the book up and discovered what was already obvious from the title, that Comer was influenced by Ortberg toward a deeper encounter with writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and others.

Comer’s book is divided into three parts: part 1 – the problem; part 2 – the solution; and part 3 – four practices for unhurrying your life. There is also a small interlude between parts 2 and 3 about what spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices—Comer calls them “the habits of Jesus” (106)—are and why this is important to eliminating hurry. The third part offers an exploration of four practices to help us enter into life with God in the midst of a harried culture: silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Throughout the book, Comer astutely combines wide-ranging research on the challenges to eliminating hurry with a depth of insight about how to bring spiritual practices meaningfully into connection with our life.

I confess that when I first began reading the book, I wondered whether it would really be worth it. After all, I’ve read nearly everything Willard and Foster have written, and I’ve read Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted more times than I wanted to with student leaders over the years. However, as time went on, I discovered something very helpful within Comer’s book. He had taken that familiar materials and placed it so close to the changing culture we live in that the practical suggestions and application were rich and profound. For example, Comer connects classic works on spiritual disciplines with deep works on Old Testament biblical studies to talk about sabbath both as rest and worship, as well as sabbath as resistance.  I also imagine you will enjoy Comer’s list of twenty suggestions for bringing the practice of ‘slowing’ into our lives in a fresh and meaningful way. We all need someone to make old things feel new and Comer does an outstanding job of that with this book.

While I would hate to say, “Hurry up and read this book!”, let me encourage you to take advantage of our present moment to give thoughtful engagement with John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.


[1] This comes from chapter 5, “An Unhurried Life: The Practice of ‘Slowing’”, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), but also can be found in Ortberg’s article “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry,” Leadership Journal, July 4, 2002, https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2002/july-online-only/cln20704.html.