The Weekend Wanderer: 24 July 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.


Keller - Sabbath Wisdom“Wisdom and Sabbath Rest” – Tim Keller at Redeemer City to City: “Leadership is stewardship—the cultivation of the resources God has entrusted to us for his glory. The Sabbath gives us both theological and practical help in managing one of our primary resources: our time. In Ephesians 5, Paul invokes the biblical concept of wisdom:

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

— Ephesians 5:15–17

The King James Version translates verses 15 and 16 as, ‘walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’ Living wisely (or circumspectly) is to a great degree a matter of how we spend our time.”


Burge - Mainline & Evangelical demography“Mainline Protestants Are Still Declining, But That’s Not Good News for Evangelicals” – Ryan P. Burge in Christianity Today: “Religious demography is a zero-sum game. If one group grows larger that means that other groups must be shrinking in size. So that rise in the nones is bad news for churches, pretty much across traditions. When you sort Christians by denomination, mainline Protestants are continuing to show significant decline. By their own membership tallies, mainline denominations are showing drops of 15 percent, 25 percent, and even 40 percent over the span of the last decade. There is little room for triumph on the evangelical side; their numbers are slipping too. Examining these two traditions, though, shows us two different stories about how their churches are losing members and could offer a trajectory for what the American religious landscape will look like in the future.”


nubian_church“Ruins of Monumental Church Linked to Medieval Nubian Kingdom Found in Sudan” – Livia Gershon at Smithsonian Magazine: “Archaeologists in northern Sudan have discovered the ruins of a cathedral that likely stood as a seat of Christian power in the Nubian kingdom of Makuria 1,000 years ago. As the Art Newspaper’s Emi Eleode reports, the remains, discovered in the subterranean citadel of Makuria’s capital city, Old Dongola, may be the largest church ever found in Nubia. Researchers say the structure was 85 feet wide and about as tall as a three-story building. The walls of the cathedral’s apse—the most sacred part of the building—were painted in the 10th or early 11th century with portraits believed to represent the Twelve Apostles, reports Jesse Holth for ARTnews.”


sliwka-fig-6“The Painter & The Preacher: Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity and Savonarola’s Sermons” – Jennifer Sliwka at The Brooklyn Rail: “On February 7, 1497 the Piazza della Signoria, the civic heart of the city of Florence, erupted into flames as piles of artworks, books, mirrors, fine clothes, and musical instruments were stacked high and lit on fire. Known as the Bonfire of the Vanities, these pyres were the result of years of preaching by the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola who petitioned Florentine citizens to sacrifice all objects that might tempt one to sin, to redress what he deemed the corrupt and vice-ridden aspects of their lives….Savonarola criticised pagan and mythological artworks in particular. One of the many artists specialising in these genres was Sandro Botticelli, perhaps best known for his poetic mythological paintings of beautiful lithe goddesses in the Primavera (Springtime) and the Birth of Venus (late 1470s–early 1480s), painted for the Renaissance palaces and villas of Florence’s elite. Less well known are his smaller religious ‘Savonarolan’ works from the 1490s, such as the so-called Mystic Nativity (1500), arguably the most personal, complex, enigmatic, and powerful of all his works.”


Snyder - Embodiment's GraceEmbodiment’s Grace: Recovering the gifts of human finitude” – Anne Snyder at Comment: “Summer is a time portal. Every July at the local ice cream counter I hear a child chirp a request that echoes something of my own from earlier innocence: ‘Dad, I’d like the super-size whippy dip, dunked in fudge, caramel, all the fixings. Trust me, I can handle it.’ The magic of anticipating a supreme level of sugary joy never fails to bring a smile. Kids generally don’t appreciate the value of limits. Most if not all of what is great in a child’s mind is something huge, more, whatever that alluring curiosity is beyond the parental boundary. Limits are something we learn to respect, typically by experiencing the consequences of exceeding them.”


Bob Dylan gospel“A Closer Look at Bob Dylan’s Confounding and Compassionate Christian Trilogy” – Timothy Bracy at Inside Hook: “Following the gender-fluid liberations of glam, the volatile excesses of The Who and Led Zeppelin and the high-voltage course correction of punk, it was not so easy to shock rock ‘n’ roll audiences in 1979. They’d seen and done a lot in that decade — things you can’t unsee. Bob Dylan had helped it all along — the tip of the spear in so many vanguard movements, two decades spent subverting expectations, coloring outside the lines and constantly moving the goalposts. But his newest gambit wasn’t like any of the others before. In 1979, the world was introduced to Bob Dylan: Born-Again Christian. Now that was surprising.”


Music: Bob Dylan, “When You Gonna Wake Up” (Live), from Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, volume 13.

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 June 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.


Wang Yi“Concerns Grow Over the Health of Imprisoned ERCC Pastor” – From International Christian Concern: “Concerns over the health of the imprisoned pastor of the banned Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) are growing. Pastor Wang Yi has been in police custody since December 14, 2018. Wang Yi, the pastor and founder of ERCC, was detained by the police in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, the southwestern Chinese province where ERCC is located. He was arrested alongside dozens of members of his church on suspicion of ‘incitement to subvert state power.’ Pastor Wang was found guilty of this charge by the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. In December of 2019, he was sentenced to nine years in jail. In addition, authorities placed his family and the other members of his church who were detained under house arrest.”


AAPI mental health Verma“Churches Should Help Normalize Mental Health for Asian Americans” –  Prasanta Verma in Sojourners: “Last month, Chicago-based writer Liuan Huska tweeted that she “can’t write or talk about getting a massage without feeling retraumatized” by the Atlanta spa murders in March that left eight people dead — six of them Asian women. Huska is Chinese American and her mother is a massage therapist. With the documented rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, fueled at least in part by racist rhetoric blaming Chinese people for the COVID-19 pandemic, Huska is not alone in feeling race-based trauma. Recent polling found that one-third of Asian adults in the U.S. fear physical attacks and threats, and more than half the Asian American women interviewed in a separate poll conducted by National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, reported experiencing incidents of hate in the past two years. A recent report by Stop AAPI Hate, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Asian American Psychological Association found that Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic. Further, it found that 1 in 5 Asian Americans who have experienced racism show signs of racial trauma. But unlike Huska, who has been able to process her grief with friends, family, and a professional, many Asian Americans have been unable to share the trauma they are feeling. While 18 percent of the general U.S. population seeks mental health services only 8.6 percent of Asian Americans do so. This discrepancy is especially stark when compared to white U.S. citizens, who access mental health services at three times the rate of Asian Americans.”


Eternity in Our HeartsEternity in Our Heart: How Art Makes Us Long for Home” – Kelly Kruse in Ekstasis Magazine: “As a child and young adult, I thought that I was homesick for beauty itself. Like many artists, I was aware of a sort of insatiable hunger in me for the beautiful at an early age. I grew up in northwest Iowa, near a place called the Loess Hills, named for its glacially deposited bluffs of humus-rich yellow soil. The sunsets in those bluffs brought about some of my first experiences of transient beauty, too rich to savor all at once, a feast that disappears before it can be finished….Sehnsucht is a German word for a particular kind of longing that I have heard described as a homesickness for a place you’ve never been. You may ask, but how could we be homesick if we haven ’t been there? This is a good question, and it’s also part of the secret.”


OBS-Trees“Practices of Place” – Matt Busby in The Intersection Journal: “Onion Bottom is a place in Chattanooga. Most people who live in Chattanooga have never heard of it, and those who have would argue that it isn’t much of a place. To be honest, there is probably at least some truth to that. There aren’t any houses in Onion Bottom, and most of the lots are vacant industrial land bisected by railroads….Onion Bottom is also the home of our church, Mission Chattanooga. I wanted to begin with a rich description of our neighborhood because I believe that one of the only ways to overcome this gap between mission as evangelism and mission as social action is in the embodied presence of the church in a place.”


Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

“Social Media, Identity, and the Church” – Tim Keller in Life in the Gospel: “Recently I was in a Zoom forum of journalists and academics who were discussing the increasing polarization of American culture. At one point a male speaker said, ‘If I wanted to invent a public forum that would undermine civil discourse and lead to social division, I couldn’t do a better job than to create Twitter.’ A respected woman journalist, who had been working for nearly a year to understand how social media worked, agreed with him. I believe they are right. But I don’t see social media going away, either, because it has enormous benefits, too. It is also deeply embedded in the psyches especially of the young. So Christians can’t ignore it, and most of all we need to begin to understand it. One book that will be useful for that purpose is Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail (Princeton, 2021). This is not a religious book—it is a work of social science. (Bail is professor of sociology at Duke University.) But its findings can be significant for how Christians conduct themselves and consume social media. And, indeed, many of his final principles for “a way forward” align with Christian ethics. Here’s what we can learn from the book.”


CROP_a and b“From Here to Utopia: What religion can teach the Left” – David Albertson and Jason Blakely in Commonweal: “Utopian thinkers have often been motivated by Christian faith. The last century alone includes William Morris, G. K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, and Cornel West…But too often Catholic political identity is limited to issues, ideology, and religious affiliation in survey polls. Equally important is the slow ethical formation of the self through the various practices of the Catholic faith, especially liturgies and other rituals that actually do the labor of constituting social belonging between individuals….The Left needs to learn how to introduce what James K. A. Smith has termed ‘cultural liturgies.’ Liturgies in this sense are cultural practices that shape our desires toward a highest good. Smith is ultimately concerned with Christian sacraments, readings, prayers, ascetic acts, charitable works, celebrations, and holy days. But he also draws attention to the way that other liturgies are offered to us by consumer capitalism that condition the heart to seek a rival highest good.”


Music: Jpk. (feat. Dominik Ray), “life thoughts.”

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 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 help me think more deeply.


Prayer-Button-Background-2-1024x536“Giving Greater Honor to the “Minority” in Your Midst” – Here is Raymond Chang in excerpt from Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel: “As a second-generation Korean American, I straddle the line between the East and the West. In my upbringing, I was told to be “American” (a euphemism for white) in public and “Korean” at home and at our first-generation Korean church. I hold within me the values of Western individualism and Eastern collectivism. Within me resides both the American spirit of independence and the Korean spirit of filial piety. For better or worse, these forces shape how I live in this world God created. Our understanding of honor is heavily influenced by our culture. As a Korean American, I view honor through both a Western and an Eastern lens. My Western sensibilities tell me that honor primarily goes to the one who earns it. It is given to the ones who deserve it through their merits. My Eastern sensibilities, however, tell me that honor primarily goes to those who came before me, regardless of their merits. This is because relationships weigh more than achievement (though achievement brings honor to the relationship). In my opinion, there is gold and dross in both of these views. It is appropriate to give honor to those who have achieved and accomplished much—especially if it came at a great sacrifice and led to much fruitfulness.”


Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 11.11.07 AM“The Fading of Forgiveness” – Tim Keller in Comment: “After the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, a new movement for racial justice emerged, especially embodied by a new loose network called Black Lives Matter. ‘This ain’t your grandfather’s civil rights movement,’ said rapper Tef Poe. This one, he said, would be much angrier. At an October protest in Ferguson, street activists heckled and turned their backs on the president of the NAACP. Unlike the older civil rights protesters, journalists on the ground in Ferguson reported that the activists were ‘hurling insults and curses’ at police. After relatives of the nine African Americans killed in Charleston, South Carolina, publicly said to the shooter, Dylann Roof, ‘I forgive you,’ a Washington Post opinion piece by Stacey Patton responded with the headline ‘Black America Should Stop Forgiving White Racists.’…Barbara Reynolds, a septuagenarian who had marched in the civil rights protests of the 1960s, wrote a counterpoint essay in the same newspaper. She said that the original movements led by Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela were marked by ‘the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,’ and they triumphed because of ‘the power of the spiritual approach.'”


051921teresa“As the world reopens post-pandemic, how will we find our way in it?” – Stephanie Paulsell in The Christian Century: “This is a small trepidation in the scheme of things. There’s so much to look forward to in a post-pandemic world: hugs, unmasked faces, gathering in churches and classrooms again. But our worries about how to reenter the world of classrooms and offices are reminders that the post-pandemic world also looms up as a challenge. As the world reopens, how will we find our way in it? We have an opportunity to do more than go back to the way things were—a chance, even a responsibility, to do better. How can we rise to it? As I was thinking about what my own pathways back into the world might be, I picked up The Interior Castle, Teresa of Ávila’s exploration of the pathways of the human journey toward God. It might seem counterintuitive to read an account of an inward journey to think about a journey back out into the world, but Teresa seems always to be looking in both directions at once. The whole point of the journey inward, she writes, is to make ourselves fit for service to our neighbor; the whole point is to love more.”


Warren - women ordination“I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate.” – Tish Harrison Warren in Christianity Today: “Rick Warren’s Saddleback church recently made headlines by ordaining three female leaders. I was grateful to see these women recognized and lent both the public authority and institutional accountability that comes from ordination. But when I read the news, I also thought with a heavy sigh, “Oh, here we go again.” I knew the debate about women’s roles in the church would dominate conversation all week, and I could already predict the rutted arguments I’d hear recited over and over. Here’s an open secret: You know who hates talking about women’s ordination? Female pastors. Not all of us, of course. Some women have a special unction to debate this topic, and honestly, more power to them. But the reality is that few of us become pastors in order to talk about women’s ordination. We get ordained because the gospel has captured our imaginations. We get ordained to witness to the beauty and truth of Jesus. We get ordained to serve the church in the ministry of Word and sacrament.”


897197“What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath” – Sohrab Ahmari in The Wall Street Journal: “In 2019, North Dakota lawmakers abolished their state’s Sunday-trading ban. Going back to the 19th century, business owners had faced jail time and a fine for keeping their doors open Sunday mornings. It was America’s last statewide blue law, and it went the way of the rotary telephone and the airplane smoking section. The bill’s main GOP sponsor in the state legislature claimed that a majority ‘wants to make decisions for themselves.’ Ending the ban, officials argued, would boost shopping and, with it, revenues. Who but a few scolds could complain? The share of Americans who don’t identify with any religion continues to grow, and even many believers reject the concept of the Sabbath as a divinely ordained day of rest. Instead, we are encouraged to pursue lives of constant action and purpose, and we do.”


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Award Winners 2021”The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the 2021 Christian Book Award winners by categories, including audio books, Bibles, Bible reference works, Bible study, biography & memoir, children, christian living, devotion & gift, faith & culture, ministry resources, and more. LaTasha Morrison’s Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation was named the book of the year, as well as winning top marks in the “Faith & Culture” topic area.


Music: Asgeir, “Living Water,” from Bury the Moon

The Weekend Wanderer: 13 March 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.even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


Jay Kim“What We Learned About the Embodied Church During the Pandemic” – Jay Kim, author of Analog Church, writes this guest post at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed: “As locked down as we’ve been this past year, there have been exceptions to the safety protocol rules. Even at a civic level, there is an understanding that some elements of human experience demand embodied presence. We’ve made allowances for temporary closeness during a time of temporary distance. This has accentuated our longing for the ‘new normal’ of social distancing to give way to the ‘timeless normal’ of embodied presence. For pastors and church leaders, 2020 has forced us to stand at the disorienting intersection between digital and analog. But as we begin to see the proverbial light at the end of the Covid tunnel (hopefully), a brief reflection on a handful of learnings from this strange year may help us navigate the days ahead.”


Luis Palau“Died: Luis Palau, Who Preached the Gospel from Portland to Latin America and Beyond” – Morgan Lee at Christianity Today: “Evangelist Luis Palau has died at age 86 of lung cancer. An immigrant from Argentina who made his home in the United States, Palau became one of Billy Graham’s most prominent successors and shared the gospel in more than 80 countries around the world. His ministry led millions of individuals to make personal decisions to follow Jesus. Palau preached the gospel to heads of state in Latin America and as the Iron Curtain fell in the USSR, his crusades bringing together a diverse array of Christians, including Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics. As a young man, Palau interpreted for Graham, who later helped fund Palau’s evangelism organization when it officially started in 1978.”


Beth Moore“Bible teacher Beth Moore, splitting with Lifeway, says, ‘I am no longer a Southern Baptist'” – Bob Smietana at Religion News Service: “For nearly three decades, Beth Moore has been the very model of a modern Southern Baptist. She loves Jesus and the Bible and has dedicated her life to teaching others why they need both of them in their lives. Millions of evangelical Christian women have read her Bible studies and flocked to hear her speak at stadium-style events where Moore delves deeply into biblical passages….Then along came Donald Trump. Moore’s criticism of the 45th president’s abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.”


Keller cancer“Growing My Faith in the Face of Death” – Tim Keller, Pastor Emeritus of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and Christian author, announced his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer last summer. Here is Keller in the The Atlantic reflecting on death and how this journey has grown his faith. “I have spent a good part of my life talking with people about the role of faith in the face of imminent death. Since I became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1975, I have sat at countless bedsides, and occasionally even watched someone take their final breath. I recently wrote a small book, On Death, relating a lot of what I say to people in such times. But when, a little more than a month after that book was published, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was still caught unprepared.”


Frederick Douglass“The Liberating Word Made Flesh” – Nathan Beacom in Comment: “In learning to read, Frederick Douglass embarked on a path that would lead to his becoming the most powerful advocate of his time for black dignity. He became an icon, the most well-known face of the age, all through the force of his power as a writer and a speaker. His arguments reshaped the conscience of the country. Language, for Douglass, had an intimate relationship with flesh—that is, with practical, lived reality. His language had the power to make people feel in their own flesh the suffering bodies of slaves; it had the capacity to motivate them to relieve that suffering. Both the logic of his arguments and their inspiration lay in the Word made flesh. His key notion—that all men and women are children of one Father, and therefore possessed of immeasurable dignity—came from his reading of Scripture. The story of the suffering Christ, put to death unjustly by the reigning social hierarchy, was a subversion of the corrupt power dynamics of human societies, and showed that God identifies with the oppressed, marginalized, and unjustly persecuted.”


RZIM office“RZIM Will No Longer Do Apologetics” – Daniel Silliman in Christianity Today: ” Once the largest apologetics ministry in the world, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) will stop doing apologetics work this year. CEO Sarah Davis announced to staff Wednesday morning that over the next six months, the downsized ministry will remake itself as a grant-making charity. It plans to give money to organizations fulfilling its original purpose of defending the truth of the gospel as well as organizations that care for victims of sexual abuse. ‘RZIM cannot and should not continue to operate as an organization in its present form. Nor do we believe we can only rename the organization and move forward with “business as usual,”‘ said Davis, who is Zacharias’s daughter and has led the ministry since his death in May 2020.”


Music: Sons of Korah, “Psalm 80,” from Resurrection.

What Has Your Heart?: Jesus, Herod, and the Temptation toward Idolatry

William Blake, Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf

We become what we worship.

This idea is something we encounter throughout Scripture. What grips our hearts—what holds our attention at the center of our lives—motivates us, moves us, and leads us wherever it desires.

We see this clearly in the sharp contrast between Herod the Great and Jesus, which I preached about this past weekend at Eastbrook. Herod is motivated by power. It grips his life with such ferocity that he willingly executed one of his wives and several of his children to secure his grip upon that power. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) was but one example of Herod’s disturbing use of violence to secure his position at any cost. The scary reality is this: Herod thought he had a hold on power, but it was actually the idol of power that had a grip on him. It motivated him, moved him, and led him wherever it desired.

Sometimes when we see an extreme example of the ruin brought by idolatry, it distances us from the ways that idolatry has a hold on our own lives. We see someone like Herod the Great, or some other renowned ‘sinner’ or ‘evil person’ from our own time, and may think, “Thank God I’m nothing like that!” But the truth is rather different. We all have a proclivity toward idolatry. There are many things that vie for our heart’s affections. There are many passions, aims, people, and objects that seek to set themselves up in our lives in order to motivate us, move us, and lead us wherever they desire. We all become what we worship.

What we see in Herod the Great’s terrifying actions is merely the fruit of a heart that is disordered through idolatry. Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). For Herod all of this started many years before the events we read about in Matthew 2. The small beginnings of idolatry, if left unchecked, expand over time. This is the way idolatry works within all of our lives. Through small decisions and apparently insignificant actions, we increasingly give our hearts over to the grip of idols. Eventually, numbed to smaller wrong decisions and actions, greater and more distorted words and actions are normalized under the spell of the idol that grips our lives.

As followers of Jesus, we cannot countenance idols. We have one center of our lives—one hold on our heart—and that is the Living God. We do well to take stock of ways that idols have come to grip our lives. I have found four questions helpful for such an inventory as suggested by Tim Keller in his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170). Consider them with me as we begin this year:

  1. What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
  2. How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
  3. What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
  4. What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Keller again writes: “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

We become what we worship, so may we worship the Lord our God only. May we shed our idols, tear them down to the ground, and, like Joshua entering the Promised Land, declare, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).