The Weekend Wanderer: 23 March 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.

jenson how the world.jpeg“How the World Lost Its Story” –  In this article published in 1993, theologian Robert Jenson, who died in 2017, reflects on the ways in which the great story of God builds meaning into the church living in the postmodern world. While the article is more than twenty-five years old, it still speaks with power. “So how, with respect to ‘story,’ must the church’s mission now be conducted?…The obvious answer is that if the church does not find her hearers antecedently inhabiting a narratable world, then the church must herself be that world.”

 

108.thumbA Damnable Shame– Mark Mulder reflects in Comment Magazine on the church’s complicity in racism with reference to Jemar Tisby’s recent book The Color of Compromise. “Tisby’s volume offers a striking distillation of how the church in America has consistently demonstrated both tacit and explicit support for a racialized society. Though he describes the American church’s history with race as no less than a ‘horror,’ Tisby also insists that ‘to look away’ has become untenable. Hopefully, many people who care about the church will read The Color of Compromise and remember that Tisby’s book is ‘not about discrediting the church or Christians.’ Rather, they will notice its lineage with those who ‘speak the truth in love.’ True reckoning for the church on issues of race undoubtedly includes detailed retelling of disquieting truths that echo into the twenty-first century.”

 

jesus-in-the-garden“Lent Doesn’t Make Sense When Incarnation > Salvation” – Over at Mockingbird, John Zahl writes about the ways in which Lent is tied in not merely with the theology of the incarnation, but also with a good theology of salvation. “Today it seems most voices in the Church (at least the one to which I belong) seek to advocate a message about the human self that aligns almost exactly with the shallow philosophies proffered in any issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Cue the preacher who interprets loving your neighbor as yourself as being about, well, loving yourself. Under the auspices of ‘Incarnational’ language, the individual is deified. The true self is equated with the divine, and this is assumed to be a profound approach, and not that of every Montessori teacher/college drop-out. God-as-self is the most basic (#Basic) and misleading path in the world. The pursuit of it is the pursuit of self-interest: spirituality without humility. The assumption seems to be: ‘I must increase so that God might increase””

 

T S Eliot“Listen to T.S. Eliot Reflect on Poetry” – “On December 4, 1950, two years after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, T.S. Eliot stood behind a lectern in the Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street Y and read some of his best work in front of hundreds of people. Now the whole world can relive that moment: The 92nd Street Y has unearthed a never-before-heard recording ahead of a listening event on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. celebrating the Unterberg Poetry Center’s 80th anniversary.”

 

89946“Court Overturns Atheist Victory Against Pastors’ Best Benefit” – “For the second time, a popular tax break for pastors has been judged permissible under the US Constitution, despite efforts by an atheist legal group to prove otherwise. Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s 2017 ruling that the Clergy Housing Allowance violates the First Amendment. Offered only to ‘ministers of the gospel,’ the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy, CT previously reported. GuideStone Financial Resources has called it the “‘most important tax benefit available to ministers.'”

 

Music: “The Lord God Bird,” Sufjan Stevens, 2005.

 

[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.]

Recovering Contemplative Exegesis [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 7]

fullsizeoutput_ae1This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began as an attempt to honor Peterson’s influence upon me while also reconsidering the essential aspects of pastoral ministry that Peterson affirms. The book explores what he calls the holy trigonometry of pastoral ministry, built around three angles of ministry: prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. Now in the second of those angles on Scripture, Peterson began with his exhortation for pastors to return to hearing Scripture, not just reading it with our eyes. In this next chapter, Peterson turns to an essential tool of hearing with our eyes, which he calls “contemplative exegesis.”

Despite the unsurpassed academic training that American pastors receive, it looks very much as if no generation of pastors that we know about historically has been so embarrassingly ill-trained in the contemplation of Scripture….Exegesis, if it is to serve the church’s life and be congruent with the pastor’s calling, must be contemplative exegesis (109).

What does this involve? Peterson offers two essential aspects of contemplative exegesis: hearing the orality of God’s voice in Scripture and receiving the word as vitally tied to the form in which it comes. The first of those two is “a realization that a word, any word, is originally and basically a phenomenon of sound, not print” (110). That God speaks to us reflects what we understand about language, that, quoting from Walter Ong, “a word ‘is the call of one interior through an exterior to another interior'” (111). God is communicating to us via Scripture from the interior depths of who He is through the exterior of words into the interior of who we are. The pastor as exegete must remember that Scripture is not just theology to be read but communication to be heard. “We read Scripture in order to listen again to the word of God spoken, and when we do, we hear him speak. Somehow or other these words live” (113). Peterson contrasts the basic orality of God’s communication in the Judeo-Christian worldview with the Greco-Roman emphasis upon visual images in theater and statuary. Given our increasingly image-laden society this contrast is perhaps more important than ever to recover.

Along with hearing the orality of God’s voice in Scripture, Peterson says that contemplative exegesis requires “receiving the words in the form in which they are given” (117). Here we find Peterson’s call to recover the narrative, or storied, nature of Scripture. Certainly we want to examine the language etymologies and individual pieces of communication with great depth and scholarly aptitude, but all of that important work must fit within a grasp of the over-arching story of God revealed in Scripture. Peterson writes:

The Bible is the story that is sound and developed. Here the language that God uses to reveal himself comes into story from that is most complete. When we listen to the word of God in Scripture, listening for what God is revealing out of himself, a story is shaped in our hearing; and the fact that it is story and not something else – systematic theology, moral instruction, wise sayings – has powerful implications for exegetical work. For just as words have a revealing quality to them, so stories have a shaping quality to them (119).

Note that last phrase about how stories have a shaping quality to them. Because of this, Peterson urges pastors as contemplative exegetes to hold onto the form of Scripture and the essential storied nature of the text that shapes us into beings held in the hands of God, the Divine Author. Building on the work of Northrop Frye, Peterson unfolds how the five basic characteristics of story are found throughout the Scripture, as well as specifically within both Old and New Testaments:

  1. There is a beginning and an ending.
  2. A catastrophe has occurred.
  3. Salvation is plotted.
  4. Characters develop.
  5. Everything has significance.

The Christian Scripture is unique in this way, and we do not want to miss that. Pastors have to respect and pay attention to this story of God written in Scripture, allowing it to shape the way that we handle Scripture, including our preaching. If we miss the overall context of the story of God, much of what we read in Scripture will not make sense, or at least not the sort of sense it was meant to make. As many say in the work of interpretation: context is king.

Here is one last statement from Peterson which summarizes this chapter:

Contemplative exegesis, then, involves these two matters: an openness to words that reveal and a submission to words that shape. Words are double-dimensioned: they carry meaning from their source, and they carry influence to their destination. All words do this in one way or another. God’s decision to use words as a means for revealing himself and for shaping us means that we must pay attention both to what he says and to how he says it (126).

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]

The Apostles Creed: An Apology for Regular Use

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I made a shift in our worship service order where we will recite the Apostles Creed on the first weekend of each month before participating in communion. As a non-denominational church, we are not alone in rarely reciting creeds. However, here is my apology for regular recitation of the creed together in corporate worship. I offered a slightly different version of this in the conclusion of my message this past weekend, “The Joy of Faith.”

image 1 - mission dei mosaicOne of the most important ways we announce that we are living by a different story is to rehearse – to say again and again – to declare – that our story is something other than the story of this earth.

There is a word for that in Christian practice and history: an affirmation of faith or declaration in a creed. So, I am going to have us do something different as a church here at Eastbrook. I want to have us regularly declare that we are living by a different story. When we gather on the first weekend of every month and celebrate the communion meal, I want us to take a stand together around the truth of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. I want us to announce to a listening world that Jesus is Lord and we are living for God’s good life and no other counter claims.

The Apostles Creed is the most widely used and consistently affirmed summary statements of faith within the global church of Jesus Christ.[1] Although its exact origins cannot be traced, the Apostles Creed in its present form is first found in a document from c. 750. The basic concepts and structure of the Apostles Creed is found as early as c. 340 in what is known as the Old Roman Creed.[2] “Teachers as varied as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther have held the Apostles’ Creed remains the best condensed statement of Christian faith and the most reliable way to learn the heart of faith.”[3]

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Cameraperson: memory, story, and seeing

film_cameraperson_1022x522_895_483Three weeks ago, I watched Kirsten Johnson’s memoir in film, Cameraperson. It is an interesting – and sometimes jarring – journey through Johnson’s work behind camera, that reveals the power of story and memory, while also exposing us to the way in which we see people and situations. Johnson has won awards over thirty years of film-making, and this film culls footage from some of that work while being something totally different. Johnson’s memoir ranges through world events and personal experiences, violence and beauty, all the while giving us a view into something we rarely think about or see: how does the person behind the camera both choose what is seen and how does what we see affect our lives.

For me, Johnson’s film left me pondering various things:

  • What does it mean to be truly present versus being an observer?
  • How do we engage with people where we are, and also how do we choose not to engage with others?
  • How does memory shape the way we see ourselves today? Does it help or hinder or heal?
  • What happens when we experience or witness violence, and how does story-telling help in the healing?

Nick Olson offers some helpful further reflections on the film in his article “The Eye Behind the Camera: Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson” on Image Journal‘s website. Here’s an excerpt, but you may enjoy reading his entire reflection.

In creating a non-linear montage of moments drawn from her work as a cinematographer during the last twenty-five years, Kirsten Johnson searches for some contiguous logic that can make sense of the seemingly disparate moments that have, in her words, most marked her.

The viewer will see many different countries via footage from twenty-four documentaries. One moment will be in the Bosnian Mountains, the next on New York City streets. We first become attuned to the montage as pattern because eventually we return to a particular subject we’d seen earlier; the first emerging motif is that Johnson has documented sites of great violence and death, especially in the aftermath when grief afflicts memory.

If pain and death are part of life’s tapestry, can the pattern be beautiful?

It occurs to me: In our movement with Johnson from memory to memory, from ashes to ashes, in our striving to make sense of what can possibly neighbor us in the midst of so much suffering, we might, through it all, find ourselves being shepherded.

Memory is crucial to the pattern: We must remember what we’ve seen in the film; Johnson remembers her mother as she descends into forgetfulness; the victims remember the atrocities and thus bring them to light. We have a short prayer for the hope that we will be remembered after we return to ashes: Memory eternal.

[Read the entire article here.]

You may also enjoy this interview with Johnson from the Sundance Film Festival.

Christ Speaks in Stories

CT ct-prj-christian-wiman06.jpgThis from Christian Wiman in his moving book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.

Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person. He uses metaphors because something essential about the nature of reality – its mercurial solidity, its mathematical mystery and sacred plainness – is disclosed within them.

Saturday Prayer 3

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. – Psalm 116:5-7

Oh Lord God,
You created all things from nothing,
You shaped my life from the dust,
You hold all time and creation in You,
You keep purpose in this all.

Come, shape my life to Yours,
break my pride into humility,
heal my wounds with gracious love,
shake my fears with kindest trust,
push me forward in halting steps,
give me sight for other-love,
give me rest in troubled world.

Amen.

[This is part of a series of prayer posts in 2012 that began here.]

The Tale of Friends at Midnight

This past Sunday, November 8, I kicked-off a new series at Brooklife Church called “Storyteller,” in which we are looking at parables of Jesus.

I was looking at the parables of the friend coming to another asking for bread at midnight. The focus of my message was on the confidence we can have with our Father-God in prayer, while also providing an introduction to how we should read/hear parables.

For some background on this series and parables, read here.

You can listen to the message online here or download our podcast here.

You can also view the very simple presentation that accompanies my message below.

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