Solitude Brings Coherence

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures. One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

– Wendell Berry, “Healing,” Stanza IV in What Are People For?

Wendell Berry’s statement that we lose loneliness by entering solitude seems completely counter-intuitive. Most of us are afraid of solitude for the very reason that we feel, in being alone, we will necessarily become lonely. But it does not have to be that way.

As Berry mentions, it is often in the “wild places” are where I feel most at ease in solitude. The fresh air, the rugged wildness, and the scurrying of creatures around makes me aware of both my smallness in the vastness of God’s creation, yet also God’s infinite attentiveness to the cosmos He has made. In the midst of this, nature’s contours soothe my soul. I am sure this soothing arises in part because, as Berry writes, in these wild places we are without “human obligation.”  In wild places we are away from people we feel obligated to engage with and things we feel obligated to do.

Both for good and ill, it is in solitude that we hear inner voices. Words that have been floating around inside of us – whole streams of though – suddenly take on such clear force that we are at times overwhelmed. We wonder, “Where did that thought come from?” Or, “I haven’t thought about that in awhile.” In reality these thoughts and ideas – these inner voices – are ever-present yet go unheeded because of the clamor of people and things in our daily lives. The voices and thoughts are there, but until we quiet ourselves enough, both externally and internally, we often either suppress them or ignore them.

When we are attentive to these inner voices and more intimate thoughts, we have the opportunity to come to a more comprehensive internal order with God and ourselves. We bring those clamoring voices to the living God and ask to hear His voice in it all. The unheeded voices that were always there speaking messages of fear or hurt or joy to us have been heard, conversed with, and brought to greater resolution in conversation with the God who hears and knows us. They grow quiet now. God’s voice becomes more solid, enduring, and strong. It is in this journey that we achieve a sense of coherence. We become less divided and distracted.

It is from this order and coherence that God sends us out with the ability to more fully engage with others and the created world. We become more fully present and able to connect with those around us.  We are in tune with God and the cosmos because of His work in our turbulent souls. With the Spirit’s power strengthening our will we can face the things that come into our daily lives, both planned and unplanned.

In solitude the various slivers of our distracted and fragmented selves come to a greater unity in God’s presence. That greater unity enables us to receive people into true relationship and bring our tasks toward completion. It is that powerful reality mentioned in the psalms:

Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. (Psalm 86:11).

The Weekend Wanderer: 14 September 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.

Jarrid Wilson“Pastor, author and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson dies by suicide” – This was probably one of the toughest news articles for me to read this past week. This was too reminiscent of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein‘s death about a year ago. As a pastor for nearly two decades, I find the uptick in pastors taking their life through suicide very difficult to handle. At the most basic level, this is just plain sad for the individual, their family, their church, and those influenced by their ministry. At a personal level, I know the strain and pressure that pastors deal with in ministry, and the very real times where the pressure feels like something you can no longer handle. Ed Stetzer does a good job of responding to this at The Exchange (“A Pastor Dies By Suicide: Three Things We All Need to Know”). You could support Wilson’s family in a tangible way here. I tweeted on Wednesday: “Life is fragile.  People need God, but people also need other people. Love those around you. If you are struggling, reach out for help.  Don’t go it alone.  The journey of life is not easy.” If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone you know about this or reach out for help to the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255). As the people of God, we have to engage with even the darkest issues of mental health together. This is at least one aspect of what it means to ” Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

 

91774“Celebrate Sexual Ethics. Don’t Apologize for Them.” – Andrea Palpant Dilley: “Over the last five years, an increasing number of believers have changed their stance on sexual ethics and slipped from the grounded banks of orthodoxy into the current of the times. Several public figures, in particular, have come out as ‘affirming’ and brought thousands with them. Those of us with a historic, biblical view feel at times defensive or discouraged, and our posture—quite understandably—is one of ‘holding our ground’ against theological erosion. In the midst of this tumult, we risk losing sight of what the church has to offer: not just a critique of false teaching (although that’s needed) but an alternative model, a bold vision of how orthodoxy enables deep, well-ordered love. As we encourage others to ‘stay on the bank,’ we have the privilege of pointing them toward a picture that reveals God’s purpose for human sexuality.”

 

Education“Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education” – Analyzing the role of technology is a hot topic, but here is a thoughtful, if not harsh, reading of technology and education in the US from Jared Woodard. “The U.S. education system spent more than $26 billion on tech­nology in 2018. That’s larger than the entire Israeli military budget. By one estimate, annual global spending on technology in schools will soon total $252 billion. To hear presidents and prime ministers tell it, this spending is laudable and even necessary to reduce inequality and prepare a workforce ready to compete in the global economy. But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called ‘job skills.’ The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.”

 

6667“Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound” – On a related point, here is Maryanne Wolf reflecting on technology’s effect on reading and attention: “Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing – a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.”

 

92032“What 1619 Means for Christian History” – A few weeks ago The New York Times released their monumental effort “The 1619 Project.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the goal of the project, this important cannot – and should not – be ignored. In Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast, Michael A. G. Haykin joins Morgan Lee and Mark Galli “to discuss the genesis of the church’s views on slavery, how the missions movement affected the slave trade, and the role of the Quakers in pricking the Protestant conscience on this atrocity.”

 

Jerry Falwell Politico“‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence” – There is probably no religious leader as tightly connected to Donald Trump as Jerry Falwell, Jr., who serves as the president and chancellor at Liberty University. This piece gets inside the feelings around Falwell in at least some areas of the school. “At Liberty University, all anyone can talk about is Jerry Falwell Jr. Just not in public. ‘When he does stupid stuff, people will mention it to others they consider confidants and not keep it totally secret,’ a trusted adviser to Falwell, the school’s president and chancellor, told me. ‘But they won’t rat him out.’ That’s beginning to change.”

 

Petrusich-WendellBerry-2“Going Home with Wendell Berry: The writer and farmer on local knowledge, embracing limits, and the exploitation of rural America” – Wendell Berry is one of the finest writers of our era, bringing a combination of artistry, love, and prophetic zeal to his poetry, fiction, and essays. If you’ve never read his work, let me commend Jayber Crow or What Are People For? as good starting points. In this article in The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich interviews Berry about his writing, his decision to return to Kentucky, human freedom and limits, agriculture, and much more.

 

Music: Jóhann Jóhannsson, “A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder,” from Orphée.

[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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 January 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.

china“In China, they’re closing churches, jailing pastors – and even rewriting scripture” – Lily Kuo writes this piece in The Guardian, highlighting the intensifying pressure on religious groups in China. While the crackdown involves religious minorities and ethnic minorities, Kuo focuses particularly upon Christians for this piece, which is well worth the read. One pastor quoted in this article says of the government persecution: “In this war, in Xinjiang, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned – the soul of man. Therefore they are doomed to lose this war.”

 

egypt church“Militants kidnap Christian man in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula” – From The Washington Post: “Islamic militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a communal taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull. The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials.”

 

world watch list 2019Open Doors World Watch List 2019 – Every year, Open Doors publishes their “World Watch List,” which tracks persecution of Christians around the world. They released the 2019 World Watch List this past week, and it is interesting to find out more information about what is happening in the world related to challenges to religious freedom.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

“Neighbors of the Dream” – I am happy to participate in The Milwaukee Declaration event this coming Monday night, January 21, entitled “Neighbors of the Dream.” This is a chance for churches around our great city of Milwaukee to stand together across racial divides in the name of Christ and for the glory of God in the unity of His church. Join us at 6:30 PM at Eastbrook for this city-wide event.

 

james macdonald“James MacDonald Takes ‘Indefinite Sabbatical’ from Harvest Bible Chapel” – Well, here is another chapter in the latest leadership challenges facing non-denominational, evangelical churches. I’ve posted about this challenge to James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel before at The Weekend Wanderer. While it’s not clear exactly what this means about MacDonald’s willingness to admit culpability, it is an expression that leadership of the family of churches sees it is time to make some change.

 

jacques_ellul“Ten Social Critics that Christians Should Be Reading” – The Englewood Review of Books offers some helpful reading suggestions, from Jacques Ellul to bell Hooks, Wendell Berry to Neil Postman, and more. “The work of social critics is vital for the health and flourishing of the church, because they remind us of the brokenness of the world and challenge us to imagine new and more healthy ways of sharing life together. Here are ten social critics whose work has been particularly helpful for me in trying to discern how to live faithfully in the twenty-first century. With each critic, I’ve included an excerpt that will serve as an introduction to that writer’s work.”

 

85847“When Great Writers Wrestle with Faith” – Speaking of reading, Jessica Hooten Wilson offers this review of Richard Harries’ new book, Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith, in which he explores modern writers as they wrestle with faith. “On the one hand, Christ is scary, unpursued, and ephemeral, haunting writers like a ghost. In the subtitle, though, the writers are active agents wrestling with an unknown entity, like Jacob with the angel, for the prize of faith. Harries explores both types of artists in his book, those who flee religion and those who chase it.”

 

Fort WildernessFort Wilderness Family Camps – Along with a great group of other pastors, I have the opportunity to speak at one of Fort Wilderness’ week-long family camps again this summer. Join me June 29-July 5, 2019, in the north woods of Wisconsin for a wonderful time in God’s good creation and God’s Word. If that week doesn’t work for you, check out the other family camps happening at Fort all summer long. There are still some spaces open at all of them.

 

office.jpeg“Office Devotions” – Let’s close out this edition of The Weekend Wanderer with a marvelous poem by Patrick Duddy over at First Things[Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing this. in The Daily Prufrock.]

 

[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.]

Wendell Berry on the wisdom of simplicity

Here is Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound (Boston: Houston Mifflin, 1970), pages 100-101:

I am far from conceding anything to those who assume that the poor or anyone else can be improved by recourse to that carnival of waste and ostentation and greed known as “our high standard of living.” As Thoreau so well knew, and so painstakingly tried to show us, what a man most needs is not a knowledge of how to get more, but a knowledge of the most he can do without, and of how to get along without it. The essential cultural discrimination is not between having and not having or haves and have-nots, but between the superfluous and the indispensable. Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums. Granting the frailty, and no doubt the impermanence, of technology as a human contrivance, the man who can keep a fire in a stove or on a hearth is not only more durable, but wiser, closer to the meaning of fire, than the man who can only work a thermostat.