The Weekend Wanderer: 23 April 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 these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


Rowan Williams“Eastern wisdom for western Christians” – Timothy Jones interview Rowan Williams in The Christian Century: “Rowan Williams presided over the Anglican Communion as archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, during fractious, fracturing times. Now retired as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, he recently moved home to Wales, where he engages his many commitments in the wider church at a lower profile, though his work as an academic, a prolific author and lecturer, and a well-regarded poet continues unabated. Like Augustine, one figure to whom his mind has continually returned, Williams is known for the questing spiritual fervor that undergirds and deepens his intellectual prowess. In his latest theological work, Looking East in Winter, the quintessentially Anglican leader looks with respect and even longing toward the riches of another vast Christian stream. He explores the rich resources for spiritual practice from the Eastern churches, the Jesus prayer, and Orthodoxy’s insights on the Trinity and human identity, along with social and liturgical applications. In many ways the book is a culmination: Williams’s graduate school days left him fascinated with Eastern Orthodoxy, and his doctoral thesis mined Vladimir Lossky’s theology. He shares the riches of decades of reflection with a Western Christendom that seems plagued by anxiety and angst over its calling.”


Drained Pastors“Our Pulpits Are Full of Empty Preachers” – Kyle Rohane in Christianity Today: Seven years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Deming, New Mexico, had to replace the rope hanging from its bell tower. After 75 years of regular use, it had finally unraveled. The bell has been ringing since the Pueblo mission-style building was constructed in 1941, and the church itself dates back further, to the turn of the 20th century. Not much else has endured like the bell. Today, the church building’s original adobe walls are covered by white paneling and a powder-blue roof. Out front, the steps leading to the entrance have been replaced with a wheelchair ramp. There was a time when the congregation nearly filled its 200-person sanctuary. On a recent Sunday, five people showed up. ‘That’s the lowest it’s ever been,’ Liv Johnson said. In the three decades since she started as secretary at First Presbyterian, Johnson has watched a slow trickle of people leave. ‘When I first came here, the average attendance—because I had to do that report—was 82,’ she said. ‘I remember having 35 kids for Sunday school, and now we have none.’ Still, Johnson doesn’t despair. She believes strong, stable leadership could turn things around. But recently, consistent leadership has been difficult to come by.”


Jesus Disciples The Chosen“Who is Jesus? How Pop Culture and Makers of ‘The Chosen’ Help Define His Life Amid Few Biographical Details” – Julia Duin in Newsweek: “Who is Jesus Christ? This weekend, his 2.3 billion followers will observe Easter, the Christian high holy day marking his resurrection from death. Every decade or so, a cottage industry of scholars, filmmakers, authors and clergy plow through the sparse biographical details of the man who claimed to be God in human form to discern how he lived his life.  More recently, artists, not theologians, have led the way, starting with Akiane Kramarik, a a homeschooled child from Mount Morris, Ill., whose striking head shots of a bearded, tousel-haired Jesus came from visions starting at the age of 4. By the age of 9, she was appearing on Oprah Winfrey. Film efforts range from the gritty ‘Last Days in the Desert’ (2015) with Ewan McGregor portraying an emaciated and doubting Jesus enduring 40 days in the wilderness to the Lumo Project’s ‘The Gospel Collection’ (2014-2018), a word-for-word presentation shot in Morocco and featuring British-Tamil actor Selva Rasalingam. Cultural authenticity is key; Rasalingam looks convincingly Jewish and the actors – taking a cue from Mel Gibson’s 2004 ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – spoke in Aramaic with subtitles. The most recent pop religious portrayal is The Chosen, a seven-season TV production that traces the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Some $45 million – mostly through crowdfunding – has been poured into the first two seasons of the production. A third will premiere in the fall. Hopes are to raise $100 million to eventually reach an audience of 1 billion. The show is closing in on 390 million views now.”


man playing tennis with his shadow, surreal abstract concept
man playing tennis with his shadow, surreal abstract concept

“Something Happened By Us: A Demonology” – Alan Jacobs in The New Atlantis: “On January 6, 2021, Samuel Camargo posted a video on Instagram showing him struggling to break through a police barrier to get into the U.S. Capitol building. The next day he wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m sorry to all the people I’ve disappointed as this is not who I am nor what I stand for.’ A month after the riot, Jacob Chansley, the man widely known as the QAnon Shaman, wrote a letter from his jail cell in Virginia asking Americans to ‘be patient with me and other peaceful people who, like me, are having a very difficult time piecing together all that happened to us, around us, and by us.’ ‘This is not who I am,’ ‘all that happened … by us’ — it is commonplace to hear such statements as mere evasions of responsibility, and often they are. But what if they reflect genuine puzzlement, genuine difficulty understanding one’s behavior or even seeing it as one’s own, a genuine feeling of being driven, compelled, by something other than one’s own will?”


franzlisztembed“Franz Liszt: Superstar, Sinner, Saint – For years Franz Liszt had been two men: a hedonist, scoundrel, and homewrecker, but also a generous soul who pined for a life of peace and prayer.” – Nathan Beacom in Plough Quarterly: “For a long time, Franz Liszt had been two men. In his days as a touring pianist, he was a hedonist, a scoundrel, and a homewrecker; he was also a generous soul who always pined for a life of peace and prayer. Now, on this sacred hill, things were simplifying themselves. For the first time, he was becoming one person. Underneath his years of superficial celebrity lay a desire still deeper than that which drove him after fame. ‘Holiness’ is a stuffy word, easily misused by the sentimental, but in its oldest origins, it simply means ‘wholeness.’ That is what Liszt was really searching for, and what he came nearer to finding in these, his later years. In his life and in his music, we can see that universal human drama between selfishness and salvation. In it, we can learn something about wholeness, too.”


Centro_america,_bernardino_de_Sahagún,_historia_general_de_las_cosas_de_nueva_españa,_1576-77,_cod._m.p._220“Nature does not care: Too many nature writers descend into poetic self-absorption instead of the sharp-eyed realism the natural world deserves” – Richard Smyth in Aeon: “I worry, sometimes, that knowledge is falling out of fashion – that in the field in which I work, nature writing, the multitudinous nonfictions of the more-than-human world, facts have been devalued; knowing stuff is no longer enough. Marc Hamer, a British writer on nature and gardening, said in his book Seed to Dust (2021) that he likes his head ‘to be clean and empty’ – as if, the naturalist Tim Dee remarked in his review for The Guardian, ‘it were a spiritual goal to be de-cluttered of facts’. ‘It is only humans that define and name things,’ Hamer declares, strangely. ‘Nature doesn’t waste its time on that.’ Jini Reddy, who explored the British landscape in her book Wanderland(2020), wondered which was worse, ‘needing to know the name of every beautiful flower you come across or needing to photograph it’. Increasingly, I get the impression that dusty, tweedy, moth-eaten old knowledge has had its day. Sure, it has its uses – of course, we wouldn’t want to do away with it altogether. But beside emotional truth, beside the human perspectives of the author, it seems dispensable. Am I right to worry? I know for a fact, after all, that there are still places where knowledge for its own sake is – up to a point – prized, even rewarded.”


Music: John Michael Talbot, “Jesus Prayer,” from Master Collection: The Quiet Side

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 April 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 these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


Tower of Babel“Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” – Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic: “What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower ‘with its top in the heavens’ to ‘make a name’ for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:

Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.

The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension. The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.”


Religion and upbringing“Trying to raise successful kids? Experts say you shouldn’t forget about faith” – Kelsey Dallas in Deseret News: “In America today, being a parent is much like being a talent manager. Moms and dads shepherd their aspiring sports star or Rhodes scholar from school to practice to private lesson, all the while looking for additional opportunities to maximize their child’s potential. ‘Parents are emphasizing personal achievement and skill-building for their kids. … They’re looking for ways to build-out a resume, whether for college or future career success,’ said Daniel Cox, director and founder of the Survey Center on American Life. As part of this push, moms and dads often deemphasize activities that don’t lead to individual acclaim, like worship services or family dinners. When you’re heavily invested in building measurable skills, you quickly run out of time to do anything else, Cox said. ‘It’s not OK anymore for kids just to hang out and goof around. They have to be learning something,’ he said. In addition to creating a lot of stressed-out kids, modern parents’ fixation on achievement is reshaping families’ relationships with organized religion. Young adults today heard less about faith from their parents during childhood than previous generations and spent less time in church, according to a new report from Cox’s survey center. These findings help explain why members of Generation Z (34%) are more likely than millennials (29%) and members of Generation X (25%) to be religiously unaffiliated. Research has long shown that the quantity and quality of childhood religious experiences predict how religious someone is as an adult, Cox said.”


Holy-Sepulchre-exterior“High-tech start for restoration of Christianity’s holiest site” – Rod Sweet in Global Construction Review: “A major restoration project at Christianity’s most hallowed place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, has begun with a high-tech start. By collecting more than 50,000 detailed images, built-environment researchers from the Politecnico di Milano have created detailed 3D models of the church’s floor ahead of the project, begun on 14 March, to conserve and restore it, conduct archeological research and install plumbing and other services at the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified and resurrected. The project, jointly funded by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, will also evaluate the stability of the Holy Edicule, a shrine built to enclose what is considered to be Jesus’ empty tomb. Led by architect and archeologist Osama Hamdan of Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, the team collected the data between September and October 2021 using a bespoke system.” 


IMG_3289-copy-scaled“Divine Intimations: Contemporary Floral Design for Sacred Spaces” – Margaret Gardner in Image: “I sit in the pew waiting for the service to begin. Glancing from the cross to the pulpit, I am struck by the stunning tropical flower arrangement—a contemporary design of cut bamboo, protea, aspidistra, and heliconia, rising from a circle of thorny vines. Not your typical bouquet of roses or lilies, it expresses a sensibility beyond its beauty. The open mouths of the cut bamboo call out; the spiky heliconia, both erect and hanging, speak to spent blood and powerful straining upward. It’s Sunday, January 16, 2022, and the notes in the bulletin say that the flowers are given ‘to the glory of God in recognition of the January 15 birthday and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ The symbolism of the arrangement is tangible. As a floral artist and longtime arranger for churches, I wonder about the vision behind this evocative design, and how other congregants connect with it as art. Located in a grand mid-century-modern building, my congregation is National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. As a member of the Reformed tradition, I am aware of our iconoclastic heritage and emphasis on plain style within the worship space. My previous church home, the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, was an early nineteenth-century Protestant box of bare-bone architecture. Clear glass, no paintings on the walls, no cross in the front, a few historic tombstones embedded in the floor, it honored our forebears’ distaste for distractions from the word of God. Yet, as Reformed scholar William Dyrness has pointed out (in his works Visual Faith and Reformed Theology and Visual Culture), even John Calvin, who forbade the use of images in worship, waxed eloquent on the beauty of the natural world and the presence of God in the theater of creation. Arranged flowers seem an ideal way to bring that ‘third book’ of God into the sacred space.”


Turkey church“Despite Drop in Deportations, Turkey Still Troubles Christians” – Jayson Casper in Christianity Today: “Last year, Protestant Christians in Turkey suffered no physical attacks. There were no reported violations of their freedom to share their faith. And there was a sharp reduction in foreign missionaries denied residency. But not all is well, according to the 2021 Human Rights Violation Report, issued March 18 by the nationally registered Association of Protestant Churches (APC). Hate speech against Christians is increasing, fueled by social media. Legal recognition as a church is limited to historic places of worship. And missionaries are still needed, because it remains exceedingly difficult to formalize the training of Turkish pastors. ‘Generally there is freedom of religion in our country,’ stated the report. ‘But despite legal protections, there were still some basic problems.'”


Carl Lenz hype pastor“The rise and fall of Hillsong’s ‘hypepriests'” – Leah Payne at NBC News: “Is the era of the ‘hypepriest’ over? The ouster of pastor-turned-celebrity Carl Lentz of Hillsong NYC, the controversy and legal troubles swirling around Hillsong founder Brian Houston and a recent documentary series chronicling alleged abuse in the famously famous Hillsong Church, might certainly lead some to believe that the American public has tired of expensively dressed pastors with famous friends and large social media followings. But while recent headlines have led to a precipitous decline in Hillsong USA churches, the celebrity pastor’s place in the United States is not under serious threat. At least not yet. America’s affinity for dramatic preaching, sex appeal and celebrity predates the American republic. George Whitefield was an actor in England before he crossed the pond and used his gifts for self-promotion and status as a ‘most beautiful youth’ to win young admirers and become the celebrity preacher of the colonies in the 1700s. Presbyterian Charles Finney’s worship spaces of the 1800s resembled theaters as much as they did sanctuaries, and he popularized ‘new measures’ of engagement, like emotive preaching and stirring music, which entertained and revived the spiritual feelings of the faithful. The 20th century brought enterprising American preachers new media outlets for spreading the good news. The attractiveness of the preachers — their body, voice and demeanor — often went hand in hand with their success. Hellfire and brimstone preacher Billy Sunday understood this well and had suits tailored to displayhis athletic physique. Women and men alike enjoyed his ultra-masculine preaching performances.”


Music: Sufjan Stevens, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” from Silver and Gold

The Weekend Wanderer: 12 March 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


030922iona-aerial“Iona was once the beating heart of Celtic Christianity” – Kenneth Steven at The Christian Century: “For me, pilgrimage begins with the Isle of Iona. I started going there with my parents in the earliest days of childhood. We traveled from the heart of landlocked Perthshire: as the crow flies it’s a couple of wing beats to Iona, while by car it involved a two-hour journey west to Oban, a ferry to the Isle of Mull, a long and beautiful drive across that island, and then a second short ferry crossing to Iona. In those days a small passenger ferry took pilgrims to Iona; I had the sense of reaching the outer edge of some tectonic plate or even the edge of the world. I felt, doubtless like tens of thousands of Iona pilgrims each year, that I had gone back in time. Iona was a place of remoteness and quiet, little changed, I imagined, from the island Columba found when he landed in the sixth century. I felt its isolation when I walked alone to Sandeels Bay in the middle of the island’s east coast or when I battled against the omnipresent winds to the south end of Iona and St. Columba’s Bay. Despite roads and telephones, this was still the Iona the saint had come to find and from which he and his followers had gone out with the Christian story.”


274810155_245611617777589_5201497153106588650_n-750x375“How the Ukraine war is dividing Orthodox Christians” – Jonathan L. Zecher at The Conversation: “There is a famous tale within Russian Orthodox Christianity that goes like this: In the 16th century, Ivan IV – the Terrible, arguably the first Tsar of Russia – sought to extend his power and sent men to ravage those towns that had not submitted to him. At that time, Basil, a “fool for Christ”, came and offered him a gift of raw meat. It was Great Lent, the time when Christians fast from meat and dairy foods in preparation for Good Friday and Easter, and Ivan said that as an Orthodox Christian he would not eat meat. Basil responded: you drink the blood of humans, why not eat meat? Ivan was shocked and repented his violence, and called off those attacks. When it comes to Russian ambitions, not much has changed since Ivan’s days, except the range and power of the weapons. But the current war has an important religious dimension, because both sides of the conflict are not merely Christian, they are members of the same church, sharing a thousand years of religious history. Today, 71% of Russians and 78% of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox Christians. In fact, until 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) was part of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), and many parishes remain there (UOC-MP), in conflict with a self-governing Orthodox Church of Ukraine (UCO).”


31crosbyembed“Is Congregational Singing Dead?: It’s time to make church music weird again” – Benjamin Crosby in Plough: “It is easy to assume that congregational singing has always been a part of Christian worship. Indeed, if anything it has something of an old-fashioned air at present, conjuring up seemingly timeless images of dusty, yellowed hymnals, of the old mainline church in the center of town, of Garrison Keillor paeans to the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon. But of course, none of those images are in fact timeless, and congregational song has a quite precise history: like the hymnal, the mainline churches, and Lutherans, congregational singing is a product of the Protestant Reformation. Today, however, the practice of congregational singing in church is threatened by a sea change in how people relate to music outside of church. All is not lost, however: the church, if it commits to the weirdness of congregational singing, might work to rebuild a culture of communal music-making within and outside the church, use that culture to invite people into the church, and – most importantly – continue to offer psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Almighty God.”


128038“Can China’s New Regulations Really Stop Evangelism on the Internet?” – Sean Cheng at Christianity Today: “China’s new internet regulations went into effect March 1, laying out broad restrictions on religious communication, teaching, and evangelism. The new rules put into writing unofficial penalties that some Christians already faced for their online activity, so Chinese believers aren’t sure how the rules will be implemented and how much it could hamper missions. The regulations were announced at the end of last year by China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) and allow only religious groups with government approval to share information on the internet. According to the new Measures on the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services:

Organizations and individuals must not proselytize online and must not carry out religious education or training, publish preaching, or repost or link to related content; must not organize the carrying out of religious activities online; and must not broadcast religious rites … through means such as text, images, audio, or video either live or in recordings.

On February 28, the Chinese government issued a press release answering questions about the new regulation, stating the government ‘will have close and thorough cooperation to ensure the implementation of the measures.’  How will the implementation of these new measures affect the use of the internet for evangelism and mission by Chinese Christians? Will Christians in China no longer be able to do anything online? As the new measures come into force during the ongoing pandemic, where will the internet mission of Chinese churches in China and overseas now go? CT Asia editor Sean Cheng interviewed several Chinese pastors and Christians (for security reasons, the names of Christians in China are pseudonyms).”


Curry_web_003“Episcopal Bishop Curry says ‘more to do’ as poll shows Christians viewed as hypocrites” – Emily McFarlan Miller and Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service: “Ask a Christian to describe other Christians and the answers likely will be ‘giving,’ ‘compassionate,’ ‘loving’ and ‘respectful.’ Ask a non-Christian, on the other hand, and the more likely descriptors you’ll get for Christians are ‘hypocritical,’ ‘judgmental’ and ‘self-righteous.’ Non-Christians are also far more likely to say Christians do not represent the teachings of Jesus. Those are the results of a new survey conducted by the Episcopal Church, released Wednesday (March 9), that illustrates stark differences between how Christians and non-Christians view Christianity in the United States. ‘There is a disconnect between the reality of Jesus and the perceived reality of Christians,’ said Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church….Closing the gap between people’s perceptions of Jesus and their perceptions of his followers will take a ‘new Reformation,’ according to Curry — one that includes not only ‘re-presenting’ a Christianity that he believes looks more like Jesus to the rest of the world, but also better formation of Christians around Jesus’ teachings and way of life. ‘The church has got a lot more to do, which is a good thing,’ he said.”


Wendell Berry - New Yorker“Wendell Berry’s Advice for a Cataclysmic Age” – Dorothy Wickenden in The New Yorker: “Hidden in the woods on a slope above the Kentucky River, just south of the Ohio border, is a twelve-by-sixteen-foot cabin with a long front porch. If not for the concrete pilings that raise the building high off the ground, it would seem almost a living part of the forest. Readers around the world know the ‘long-legged house’ as the place where Wendell Berry, as a twenty-nine-year-old married man with two young children, found his voice. As he explained in his essay by that name, he built the cabin in the summer of 1963—a place where he could write, read, and contemplate the legacies of his forebears, and what inheritance he might leave behind.  The cabin began as a log house built by Berry’s great-great-great-grandfather Ben Perry, one of the area’s first settlers, and it lived on as a multigenerational salvage operation. In the nineteen-twenties, with the original house in disrepair, Wendell’s bachelor great-uncle Curran Mathews painstakingly took apart what remained and used the lumber to make a camp along the Kentucky River, where he could escape ‘the bounds of the accepted.’ Wendell, ‘a melancholic and rebellious boy,’ found peace in the tumbledown camp, even though it flooded every time the river overflowed. Eventually, it became uninhabitable, and he pried off some poplar and walnut boards to use in building his own cabin, on higher ground—a ‘satisfactory nutshell of a house,’ he wrote. Standing on its long legs, it had ‘a peering, aerial look, as though built under the influence of trees.'”


Music: Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno, “An Ending (Ascent),” from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks

The Weekend Wanderer: 13 November 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.


Pakistan psalms“Special Psalms Help Pakistani Christians with Persecution, Pandemic, and Disunity” – Yousaf Sadiq in Christianity Today: “As Christians observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) this month, many will place high on their prayer list the nation of Pakistan, ranked the fifth most difficult place in the world to follow Jesus. Yet amid the prejudice, discrimination, and persecution faced by believers there, many Pakistani Christians have a unique resource to draw upon at the heart of their worship: contextualized psalms. A century ago, the Book of Psalms was translated into Pakistan’s predominant language, Punjabi, in versified form. Commonly referred to as the Punjabi Zabur, these poetic metrical songs can unequivocally be regarded as the most accustomed, read, sung, recited, and memorized part of Scripture by the body of Christ in Pakistan. Corporate worship within Pakistani churches (which are overwhelmingly ethnically Punjabi) is considered incomplete if the Zabur are excluded. As the deepest expression of indigenous Christianity, they can rightly be viewed as the heart of Christian worship in Pakistan and have given its believers an unrivaled familiarity with the Book of Psalms.”


Beth-Moore-2“Beth Moore: What Galatians Tells Us About How to Confront Church Leaders” – Jessica Lea at Church Leaders: “Challenging other church leaders, says author and Bible teacher Beth Moore, can be grief-inducing and painful, but Scripture shows us that there are times to do so. ‘I don’t like being at odds with people that I love so much, those that have been my peers, my co-laborers,’ said Moore. ‘I hate that. I hate it. But there are times when leaders do have to say to other leaders, “Wait, this doesn’t seem in step with the gospel.”‘ In January, Beth Moore released Now That Faith Has Come: A Study of Galatians, which she co-authored with her daughter, Melissa. In an interview on the Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast, Moore shared how the book of Galatians provides a framework for some decisions she has made recently, including her choice to leave the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)….In March 2021, Beth Moore announced that she was leaving the SBC, saying at the time, ‘I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don’t identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven’t remained in the past.’  Moore explained in the interview that her decision to leave came from ‘facing up to the fact that somehow, I no longer belong. And, you know, it began instantly with speaking out back in the fall of 2016. It was overnight.’ Moore drew criticism in 2016 for calling out Christian leaders who supported former president Donald Trump, even after tapes were leaked in which Trump used lewd language to brag about assaulting women.”


chinachurch0719_hdv“China’s Unrelenting Efforts to Abolish Christianity Continue with Surveillance of Clergy to Ensure Loyalty” – Andrea Morris at CBN News: “A report issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) outlines strict measures being taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which aims to oppress religious minorities. The measures, which went into effect on May 1, are a part of a series of newly issued regulations that add to the revised 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA). Clergy members from all of China’s five state-sanctioned religious groups — Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association — will be subjected to rigorous monitoring and surveillance by CCP. “Article 3 of the Measures requires clergy — among other demands — to support the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rule, the Chinese socialist political system, and the CCP’s ‘sinicization of religion’ policy, effectively imposing a political test to ensure clergies’ loyalty to the CCP,” the USCIRF report reads. The new regulations also ban government-sanctioned churches from interfering in any concerns with education or the daily activities of citizens.”


temple-lachish-416x275“Hezekiah’s Religious Reform—In the Bible and Archaeology – David Rafael Moulis at Biblical Archaeology Society: “One of the most significant changes in the religious life of ancient Israel occurred during the reign of the Judahite king Hezekiah, in the late eighth century B.C.E. The Hebrew Bible provides us with this image: ‘He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole (asherah). He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it’ (2 Kings 18:4). In doing so, explains the Bible, the faithful king Hezekiah simply ‘did what was right in the sight of the Lord.’ But was Hezekiah really motivated only by ‘the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses’? What was his reform like on the ground?”


2992“Gardens of Eden: the church forests of Ethiopia – a photo essay” – Kieran Dodds in The Guardian: “South of the Sahara, and just north of the Great Rift Valley in landlocked Ethiopia, the Blue Nile flows from Lake Tana, the largest lake in the country. Radiating out from the sacred source is a scattering of forest islands, strewn across the dry highlands like a handful of emeralds. At the heart of each circle of forest, hunkered down under the ancient canopy and wrapped in lush vegetation, are saucer-shaped churches – otherworldly structures that almost seem to emit a life force. And in a sense they do. Ethiopia is one of the fastest expanding economies in the world today and the second most populous country in Africa. The vast majority of people live in rural areas, where the expansion of settlements and agriculture is slowly thinning the forest edge by cattle and plough. Over the past century, 90% of Ethiopia’s forests have been lost. In Amhara province, the only remaining native forests are those that surround the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church buildings.”


Petrusich-WendellBerry-2“Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse: Twenty-seven propositions about global thinking and the sustainability of cities” – This is a throwback to 1991 from Wendell Berry in The Atlantic: “The question before us, then, is an extremely difficult one: How do we begin to remake, or to make, a local culture that will preserve our part of the world while we use it? We are talking here not just about a kind of knowledge that involves affection but also about a kind of knowledge that comes from or with affection—knowledge that is unavailable to the unaffectionate, and that is unavailable to anyone as what is called information….What, for a start, might be the economic result of local affection? We don’t know. Moreover, we are probably never going to know in any way that would satisfy the average dean or corporate executive. The ways of love tend to be secretive and, even to the lovers themselves, somewhat inscrutable.”



Music: Interim, “Breathe.”

The Field of Pastoral Ministry: Eugene Peterson on the congregation as topsoil [Under the Unpredictable Plant 4]

I recently re-read Eugene Peterson’s classic book on pastoral ministry based in the life of Jonah, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1992). There is so much in this book, but I am merely sharing a few pieces that have stuck out powerfully to me in this particular season of time.

Where Peterson earlier discusses spiritual growth through the lens of organic farming, he carries on later to compare the congregation to topsoil. Drawing upon the rich agrarian writings of Wendell Berry, Peterson opens a view on the congregation through agrarian imagery. While shepherd is one of the literal meanings of pastor, the agrarian image is found through Scripture as well, most notably in Paul’s description of his ministry in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

The parallel with my parish could not be more exact. I substitute my pastoral vocabulary for Berry’s agricultural and find Berry urging me to be mindful of my congregation, in reverence before it. These are souls, divinely worked-on souls, whom the Spirit is shaping for eternal habitations. Long before I arrive on the scene, the Spirit is at work. I must fit into what is going on. I have no idea yet what is taking place here; I must study the contours, understand the weather, know what kind of crops grow in this climate, be in awe of the complex intricacies between past and present, between the people in the parish and those outside. 

Wendell Berry has taught me a lot about topsoil. I had never paid any attention to it before. I was amazed to find that this dirt under my feet, which I treat like dirt, is a treasure — millions of organisms constantly interacting, a constant cycle of death and resurrection, the source of most of the world’s food. There are a few people who respect and nourish and protect the topsoil. There are many others who rapaciously strip-mine it. Still others are merely careless, and out of ignorance expose it to wind and water erosion….

Berry says that ‘in talking about topsoil, it is hard to avoid the language of religion.’ Congregation is the topsoil in pastoral work. This is the material substance in which all the Spirit’s work takes place — these people, assembled in worship, dispersed in blessing. They are so ordinary, so unobtrusively there; it is easy to take them for granted, quit seeing the interactive energies, and become so preoccupied in building my theological roads, mission constructs, and parking lot curricula that I start treating this precious congregational topsoil as something dead and inert, to be rearranged to suit my vision, and then to bulldoze whatever isn’t immediately useful to the sidelines where it won’t interfere with my projects. But this is the field of pastoral work, just as it is, teeming with energy, nutrients, mixing death and life. I cannot manufacture it, but I can protect it. I can nourish it. I can refrain from polluting or violating it. But mostly, like the farmer with his topsoil, I must respect and honor and reverence it, be in awe before the vast mysteries contained in its unassuming ordinariness.

Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 133-135.

Other posts in this series: