"God draws straight lines with crooked sticks."

- Joni Eareckson Tada
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A Gospeled Church

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesMay the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus
– Romans 15:5

The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.

You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.

It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.

The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)

But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.

This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.

It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”

From Semicolon
Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

I can’t believe I read the whole thing. I even started the second book in the series, Crown of Midnight. Wikipedia says, “The series has received critical acclaim and appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.” I am not impressed. And hereafter, be warned that since I didn’t like the book very much, and I don’t recommend it, there may be spoilers in my review.

The protagonist, Celaena Sardothien, aside from having an annoyingly unpronounceable first name, seems to be a failed attempt at creating a forceful, aggressive, feminist Cinderella heroine. Author Sarah Maas said in an interview, “I’d love for some young woman to read [Throne of Glass] and feel empowered.” Celaena is supposed to be a master assassin who has survived a year in the salt mines of Endevier, a horrific prison/work camp. However, she comes across to me as a frivolous girl who loves food, especially sweets, and clothes and parties and hunky guys. She is an expert with weapons of any make or model, but in the entire course of Throne of Glass, Celaena never actually assassinates anyone. (She does kill a sort of monster demon cat, but no people.) She mostly depends on the guys, a friend from another country named Nehemia, and some kind of goddess ancestor ghost named Queen Elena, to rescue her from the ultimate dangers in which she finds herself embroiled in an assassin’s competition that forms the backbone of the plot of Throne of Glass.

The book includes (of course) a love triangle. Celeana is pursued by both Prince Darian and Captain of the Guard Chaol (another annoying name). She frequently expresses her desire (in her thoughts) to kiss Darien, and eventually she does. But there’s no chemistry or interest to the budding romance between the assassin and the prince. Chaol is more the strong, silent type, and he and Celeana never get to the point of kissing. The verbal sparring and flirting that goes on between Celeana and each of the guys is neither witty nor romantic; in fact, it’s mostly boring. I didn’t really care which man Celeana chose, and at least in the first book of the series, I wasn’t disappointed because she chooses neither, keeping them both on the string.

So many contradictions marred the plot of this Hunger Games wannabe. Celeana is deathly afraid of and hates the King of Adarlan, her employer, but she is sure her skills are so developed that she could assassinate him in a heartbeat. She says she has no choice but to enter and win the competition to become the King’s Champion, but when she finds a way to escape from the castle and the competition, she decides to wait and see what happens. Some of the competitors are being murdered in a particularly gruesome way, but Celaena is worried about whether or not she is invited to the ball and pouts when she is not.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Throne of Glass is poorly plotted and the characters are unbelievably shallow and contradictory. Celaena is a twit, and I would hate to meet the young woman who is inspired by her character. The series doesn’t improve in the first few chapters of the second book, Crown of Midnight, in which our heroine goes on an extravagant shopping trip for ball gowns in between assassination assignments, so I gave up.

From Semicolon
Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous by J.B. Cheaney

The bus in question is a school bus, and the riders include several fifth, sixth and seventh graders and some “littles.” The story begins with the bus in a ditch in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, and then the rest of the story is a series of flashback chapters told from the point of view of several different bus riders about what happened throughout the school year to get the bus and its passengers to the day of the fateful accident.

Spencer is a genius, just back from a high-powered summer physics camp. Jay is Spencer’s best friend and the kid most likely to play pro-football. Shelley is something of a diva/singer/dancer, already worried about next summer and the performing arts camp in California that she wants to attend. Miranda is the side-kick who latches onto any BFF who will pay her some attention and eat lunch with her in the cafeteria. Bender is the bully, the kid who just might take your lunch money or trip you on a whim if you don’t watch out. Kaitlynn is a blabbermouth, full of ideas. Igor is probably ADHD, always in motion and looking for attention. Alice is the new girl who reads all the time. And Michael—well, Michael is the only African American kid on the bus, and no one knows what he’s thinking because he doesn’t say much to anyone.

I was intrigued and eager to keep reading to see how the author would tie together the stories of all the characters and their interactions with each other. For the most part, all of the loose ends were knotted, which is how I like my stories to be. I believe most kids would agree with me. Ambiguous endings are for literary adult types. This satisfying ending might be a little rushed, but it’s good and not forced.

The only thing that bothered me about the book is that the story is written in present tense. I guess this present tense choice lends some immediacy or nearness to the story, but I sometimes found it distracting. Mostly I tried to ignore it, although my brain insisted on “translating” the story into past tense for me at strategic moments.

Writer’s Digest: The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense.

Overall, I highly recommend Ms. Cheaney’s Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous for middle grade readers who enjoy suspense and family/school stories. The plot and the writing remind me of authors such as Caroline B. Cooney (The Face on the Milk Carton) and Margaret Peterson Haddix (Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey), so I would recommend it as a read alike for those, maybe for a slightly younger crowd, say fifth through seventh graders.

From internetmonk.com
Creation Is a Many Splendored Thing (2): Genesis 1:1-2:3

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Crucible of Creation: Orion Nebula (detail: Hubble)

The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.

• Psalm 93:1-2, NRSV

As the Bible’s first creation account, Genesis 1 enjoys pride of place. Positioned as the cosmogony of cosmogonies, the Priestly account is also the most carefully structured text in all of Scripture. Its intricate arrangement reflects something of creation’s own integrity . . .

. . . As creation unfolds “daily,” it becomes constructed in the imago templi, in the model of a temple. What took Solomon seven years to complete (1 Kgs 6:38), God took only seven days, and on a cosmic scale no less! In the holiest recess of the temple God dwells, and on the holiest day of the week God rests.

• William P. Brown

In our first post reflecting on insights from William P. Brown’s book, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, we noted Brown’s observation that the story of “creation” is found not just once, but seven times in the Bible:

1. Genesis 1:1-2:3
2. Genesis 2:4b-3:24
3. Job 38-41
4. Psalm 104
5. Proverbs 8:22-31
6. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; 12:1-7
7. Isaiah 40-55 (excerpts)

The first of these accounts, of course, is in Genesis 1. Brown’s interpretation of this text is close to my own (with some significant differences — see My View of Genesis 1– a post I will update soon). In particular, let me mention the following seven points, with which I am in full agreement:

First, Genesis 1 may have the polemic purpose of contrasting the Jewish view with that of the Babylonians and others in the Ancient Near East, but it does so subtly. Whatever hints of cosmic conflict it may contain are muted, with the overall effect of portraying God as One who is majestically above all other so-called gods.

Second, the account is intricately structured, primarily by the number 7. This is not always appreciated by English readers, but it is  key to understanding that this is not merely prose reporting of events, but “exalted prose” that is written this way for effect. It is not poetry, but if not, it comes close to having a poetic effect on the reader. Some suggest it may have been liturgical in nature, but whatever its precise genre, it is magnificent in its numerical complexity while at the same time it speaks with profound simplicity of language. “. . . the order inscribed in this account imparts a remarkable mathematical aesthetic, the quantifiable order of a fully stable, life-sustaining, differentiated world.”

Third, the narrative also follows a symmetrical order by which God addresses the conditions spoken of in 1:2 — “without form” and “empty.” God forms his creation on the first three days and then fills it on days 4-6. These days are essentially parallel to each other, with some variations, so that on Day 4 God fills what he formed on Day 1, and so on. Day 7 stands alone as the day of completion, answering “Day 0″ when creation was uninhabitable.

Gen_Pattern_convertedFourth, Brown notes that this pattern is consistent with the three-fold arrangement of sacred space in ancient temples. Genesis 1 is a portrayal of God the King creating a cosmic temple in the world.

Orion Nebula (Hubble)

Orion Nebula (Hubble)

Fifth, this gives us a clue as to the place of humans as creatures made in God’s image. “Many an ancient temple contained an image of its resident deity within its inner sanctum. In Jerusalem, however, the physical representation of God was expressly forbidden . . . . Genesis 1, however, does not jettison the language of divine image but recasts it by identifying the imago Dei with human beings, created on the sixth day.” This suggests that humanity’s role is to rule as priests in God’s good creation, to embody the imago Dei in the world.

Sixth, in creation God works with its material elements, not simply over them and without their free cooperation. The idea that creation is “good” includes its fecundity and ability to generate and sustain itself. God’s engagement with creation is thoroughly interactive.

As a whole, creation takes place in Genesis 1 from the top down and from the bottom up. God commands from on high for creation to happen, yet much of the creative process emerges from below. Both the earth and the waters contribute to the emergence of life. God’s engagement with creation is thoroughly interactive. The creative process is no singular event; neither is it a unilateral process. The result is a creation that exhibits structure and variety, a cosmic living temple, a creation deemed “extremely good” (1:31).

Seventh, God is portrayed as a beneficent Ruler who builds his temple as he commanded Israel to build hers: led by Moses (who spoke the word of divine instruction), Aaron (who served as priest), and Bezalel (the artisan who crafted the temple by the Spirit). All these roles are filled by God in Gen. 1.

• • •

One more thought in closing. Brown gives us an important reminder about the creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This story came to Israel in an important socio-historical context.

The Babylonian exile of 587 BCE had left the land of Judah more than decimated. From the perspective of those most affected, imperial conquest and deportation rendered the land “void and vacuum.” The survivors experienced such national trauma as nothing less than a resurgence of cosmic chaos, leaving the land “empty,” stripping the community of its national identity, and leaving the temple in ruins. The good news of Genesis 1 is that God can work with such chaos to bring forth new creation. Heard in the time of exile, the message of imago Dei in Genesis would have been a “clarion call to the people of God to stand tall again with dignity and to take seriously their royal-priestly vocation as God’s authorized agents and representatives in the world.”

From Out of the Bloo
“I will; be clean”

From today’s reading of Matthew 4, Luke 4-5 and John 1:15-51

Today’s reading had a lot of action: the temptation in the wilderness (where satan attempted, among other things, to counterfeit the “God can bring _________ out of these stones” declaration of John as part of his temptation – see yesterday’s post), literal cliff hangers, beautiful prophetic fulfillments, first callings of his disciples, and the most insightful early declaration of who Jesus is, among many other things.

But I want to focus on one of those close-in, intimate moments that are sprinkled throughout the gospels.

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. – Luke 5:12-13

There is so much about the character of our Lord packed into each of the clauses of this passage.

Jesus was busy. He was on a ministry tour, stopping off in “one of the cities”. The man who came to him wasn’t just a leper, but he was “full of leprosy”. People with skin diseases were unclean and touching them was forbidden, as the person doing the touching immediately became ceremonially unclean himself. Here was a man full of leprosy falling at Jesus feet and begging for healing.

Jesus healed some people without touching them; he even healed from long distance. But he makes the point here of touching the man. He touched a man who had gone a long time without human contact. He gave time and attention to a man who was used to having people run away from him.

You can almost hear the smile of kindness on Jesus face as he replies to the man “I will; be clean”. Immediately the man was cleansed of his disease.

The scene is simple. If you’ve been in church any time at all you’ve heard a sermon on this. You already know about the restrictions on contact with skin-diseased people. You already know that Jesus is a healer. None of this is new to you or me.

But hopefully, in another respect, these episodes in Jesus’ life and ministry are new every day. Every day he answers the desperate prayer of a desperately unclean person: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”. And he touches them and makes them clean! That simply doesn’t get old. The problem many of us have is that we don’t see it very often: either we have surrounded ourselves with those who are already (or who already appear to be) clean, or we have isolated ourselves to just the company of . . . ourselves.

There is an entire world out there of people who are longing to be healed. They desperately need the touch of the One who won’t himself become unclean by touching them, but who transfers his cleanliness to them, healing them of their disease.

Even as believers in Jesus, healed of our sin-sickness and no longer slaves to it, we need that daily (hourly, minutely) touch of the great Healer. And we need to, ourselves, carry his healing touch into the world, among the people no one else wants to be around, and – Lord willing – be astonished and joyful witnesses over and over to the work of the Healer.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

I will; be clean.”

From internetmonk.com
For Labor Day: Gene Veith on Vocation

Camille_Pissarro_-_The_Harvest

The Harvest, Pissarro

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God give us our daily bread, which He does. He does so not directly as with the manna to the Israelites, but through the work of farmers, truck drivers, bakers, retailers, and many more. In fact, He gives us our daily bread through the functioning of the whole accompanying economic system — employers and employees, banks and investors, the transportation infrastructure and technological means of production — each part of which is interdependent and necessary, if we are going to eat. Each part of this economic food chain is a vocation, through which God works to distribute His gifts.

God heals the sick. While He can and sometimes does do so directly, in a spectacular unmediated miracle, in the normal course of things God heals through the work of doctors, nurses, and other medical vocations. God protects us from evil. This He does by means of the vocation of police officers, attorneys, judges — also through the military vocations. God teaches through teachers, orders society through governments, proclaims the Gospel through pastors.

The Gleaners, Pissarro (detail)

The Gleaners, Pissarro (detail)

Luther pointed out that God could have decided to populate the earth by creating each individual and each generation separately, from the dust. Instead, He invented families. God ordained that new life come into the world — and be cared for and raised into adulthood — through the work of a man and a woman who com together into a family. Husband, wife, father, mother are vocations through which God extends His creation and exercises His love.

All of this simply demonstrates that, in His earthly kingdom, just as in His spiritual kingdom, God bestows His gifts through means. God ordained that human beings be bound together in love, in relationships and communities existing in a state of interdependence. In this context, God is providentially at work caring for His people, each of whom contributes according to his or her God-given talents, gifts, opportunities, and stations. Each thereby becomes what Luther terms a “mask of God”:

All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government — to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things. (Luther, Exposition of Psalm 147)

• Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
The Spirituality of the Cross

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I really don’t feel much like writing much anymore, anywhere. The Social Justice Warriors are going to get everything they want. While we fret about being forced to host gay weddings, they’re already teeing up transexualism as the next civil rights crusade. I can’t wait for the first discrimination lawsuit to hit the courts because a guy in a dress asked out a normal guy, who told him “Sorry, I only date women.”

Europe’s deliberately sacrificing itself to the Islamic horde because they feel so incredibly guilty about existing. Britain can’t even bring itself to prosecute child sex slavers because they don’t want to offend Islam.

Oh, did I say something about Islam? Let’s add to it that no one is ever allowed to say anything about Islam that isn’t positively glowing. That’s why Islamic countries are such awfully nice, tolerant, peaceful places to live.

No one’s having kids because sex is fun and sterilizing ourselves is grand.

The NPV of the United States government’s liabilities is larger than the entire economy of the world.

I’m supposed to act like every man is a rapist and all rapes are every man’s fault, and this crime that is as old as the human race could be eliminated if only white males weren’t so mean, and if I don’t agree with that, I’m a “rape apologist.”

The President does things that make Nixon look like the Blessed Virgin Mary of Catholic myth, and no one cares.

Christianity in America’s going to die off.

I hate everything and everyone.

From Semicolon
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi.

In the course of one evening, I read this spiritual autobiography of a Muslim who, over a period of years of study and debate, converted to Christianity. I daresay one could give it a week, or a month, and not mine completely all the information and food for thought contained therein. I’ll simply hit a few of the ideas and impressions that stood out for me.

1)Islam is as fragmented with cults, sects, and denominations as is Christianity, if not more so. Mr. Quereshi’s family were (still are for the most part) members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Other Muslims consider the Ahmadiyya “not true Muslims.” Mr. Qureshi goes over the differences between Ahmadiyya and other forms of Islam in an elementary fashion in the book, but what I got out of the entire discussion was that while the Ahmadiyya consider themselves to be orthodox Muslims because they pray and recite Quran like other Muslims and believe and recite the Shahadah like other Muslims, those other Muslims do not accept the Ahmadiyya as orthodox followers of Muhammed and of Allah.
Many Muslims will not give credence to Mr. Qureshi’s arguments because his family’s faith is considered to be outside the pale of Muslim orthodoxy in the first place.

2)There is a great divide between the East and the West in regards to their approach to learning and authority.

“People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on average it is relatively less valued and far less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the critical reasoning, and leaders know best.”

Mr. Qureshi goes into this divide and its repercussions in relation to explorations of religious truth in part two of his book.

3)Dreams and visions were a part of Nabeel Qureshi’s conversion process. Because I approach revelation of truth and Christianity from a Western, scientific mindset, the idea of God revealing himself through dreams and visions seems subjective and prone to misunderstanding and dispute in my eyes. However, in a paper at Ravi Zacharias’ website, Josh McDowell has this to say about God’s use of dreams and visions to draw seekers to himself:

“Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does. These seekers begin a personal or spiritual journey to find the Truth. As was the case for Nabeel, the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

That formulation makes sense to me.

4)Mr. Qureshi emphasizes in his story the importance of family and tradition to the Muslim, and parts of his book are heart-wrenching because he tells in detail of the price he and his family had to pay for him to become a follower of Jesus Christ. He had to give up his identity as a Muslim, as a good, loving, obedient son, and a carrier of the family honor and tradition. As he came to an intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel, Mr. Qureshi had to decide whether he was willing to pay this emotional price (and require it of his family) in order to follow the truth that he found in Jesus. I wondered as I read whether I would be willing to pay such a price were it required of me.

I recommend Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus to Christian and non-Christian readers alike. If you read the book with an open mind, you will find yourself questioning your own pre-suppositions, a good thing for all of us to do every now and then.

From Out of the Bloo
Stones

From today’s reading of Matthew 3, Mark 1 and Luke 3

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – John the Baptist, quoted in Matthew 3:9

One reason, I think, that Jesus stirred up so much angst and astonishment among the elites and the “haves” of his day – and still does, because this is still his day – is because he is the supreme foundation kicker-out-from-underer (Hey, it’s past 2am. You shouldn’t expect lucid writing here).

“We have Abraham as our father!” is just one of many spiritual safety nets that the leaders of his time had setup. It basically was shorthand for “I’m in”. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the people, so he dismantles the Abraham patrimony argument, kind of as a primer for everyone, anticipating the much greater dismantlings to come from Jesus. Jesus was so good at destruction of this sort that John wasn’t worthy to change the oil in Jesus’ sledgehammer.

Jesus dismantled the fence laws that had been erected to keep everyone from breaking the real laws. He dismantled notions of self-righteousness, the proto-prosperity gospel that prompted questions such as “What caused this man to be born blind? Was it his sin or his parents’ sin?” Jesus caused rocks to fall from hands that had flung many, and could make other hands urgently reach for rocks to throw at him. He shook up the demonic world that had grown fat, lazy and used to long, comfortable stays in their hosts. He turned over tables in the temple that had seen a comfortable, brisk business through the years, and broke all the first century Emily Post etiquette rules about letting prostitutes near oneself when dining with the upper crust. He saved the best wine for last.

Jesus wasn’t interested in loud declarations of one’s exalted station and dignified silence when some undignified rejoicing and worship were called for.

For those who chose to be deaf and blind to what he was about, the stones would do just fine.

From internetmonk.com
Spiritual Formation Talk: Sacred Reading

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The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

• Psalm 119:130

• • •

In our second post on Fr. Charles Cummings’ book, Monastic Practices, we take up the first of the three basic practices of monastic daily life, in order to consider how they might inform the spiritual formation of those who follow ordinary callings.

Sacred reading, manual work, and liturgical prayer constitute the threefold footing of our daily life. (p. 7)

The first practice is sacred reading (lectio divina). Cummings notes that St. Benedict devoted two to three hours each day to this practice in the warmer months, and four to five hours in the winter months.

As Fr. Cummings describes this practice, sacred reading is a conversation with God.

The monk or nun would sit with the text of Scripture and begin to read attentively and reflectively until a word or phrase struck the imagination or the heart. At that moment the reader paused, put the text aside, and gave himself to prayer. The prayerful pause might last less than a minute or might be extended for a number of minutes. When attention faltered, he or she would resume reading until the next moment of insight or movement of love. The rhythm of reading and pausing would continue peacefully, unhurriedly, until the bell announced the next exercise of the monastic day. (p. 8)

The alternation of reading and pausing for contemplation or prayer is key to this practice and makes it conversational. It is about listening and responding, just as we do when we have a talk with a friend. It also gives us space to focus on small passages of text so that we might draw deeper meanings and implications out of them.

These are the words the author uses to describe this process: assimilation, impregnation, interiorization, personalization. It involves “savoring” and “relishing” the words we read, tasting, digesting, and drawing nourishment from them. And like taking meals, the effects may not be evident immediately. The goal is not to have spectacular “experience” every time, but to maintain a good diet that promotes long term health and well being.

Fr. Cummings warns us that we will run into obstacles as we pursue this practice. First, the texts we have before us may not always lend themselves to sacred reading. This is true of the Bible itself — though all Scripture may be “inspired,” a given passage may not be inspiring in a way that lends itself to this approach. Some texts may be beyond our present capacity to understand. Certain questions and issues may distract us from the conversational purpose of our reading. If we are reading devotional materials from another author, the style may be unfamiliar to us, the language or idioms difficult to grasp. “At some point the reader has to make an honest decision about whether a particular text is worthy staying with for sacred reading” (p. 10).

13390768785_a2c5019e02_zAnother obstacle is our own impatience. Sacred reading is meant to be a leisurely conversation, understood as one small exchange in a lifetime relationship. In our day, many of us tend to expect an instant pay-off whenever we give ourselves to a practice. That is not the goal here. Nor is this reading in order to gain a bundle of information or to get through a certain amount of material. “Speed reading is useful, and even necessary, for digesting the contents of textbooks, periodicals, or newspapers. But when the time for sacred reading comes, I have to be able to read slowly and patiently, in a relaxed and open spirit, ready to “taste and see how good the Lord is” (Ps. 34:8) (p. 11).

We are encouraged to prepare for this kind of reading. Set aside time. Have a suitable place. Take a few moments to relax and quiet the noise within. In prayer, ask God to meet with you as you read.

Although Charles Cummings is hesitant to set any “rules” for the practice of sacred reading, he does give examples of how others have practiced lectio divina and encourages us to learn from them. For example, the twelfth century Carthusian prior Guigo spoke of a four-runged ladder of (1) reading, (2) meditation, (3) prayer, and (4) contemplation. Guigo compared this to the way we eat: (1) taking food into our mouths, (2) chewing our food, (3) swallowing the food, and (4) enjoying the refreshment and fullness our food gives us.

Cummings also compares this with the fourfold patristic way of interpreting the Bible: (1) the literal sense, (2) the moral sense, (3) the allegorical sense, (4) the spiritual (or anagogical or eschatological) sense. When we read, we grasp the meaning of the words. Then, through meditation we search for what the text has to say about life and God’s values. Through the third step, prayer, we learn what the text says about God and his Kingdom, and in the fourth we enter into a vision of the heavenly realities that the text represents.

Finally, Fr. Cummings suggests the fruit that may grow in our lives from this practice.

Continual exposure to the power of the word of God in sacred reading must have noticeable effects on the reader. Gradually the word will become flesh in the reader’s daily life. He or she will become not merely a hearer, but a doer, of the word (Lk. 6:47). Sacred reading makes an opening through which the life-giving word of God can enter the reader’s heart and carry on its work of healing and transforming. The word once received is received more readily the next time.

The habit of listening during sacred reading fosters the attitude of listening in other situations to what the word of God is asking. The habit of mulling over words and phrases or murmuring them aloud fosters the practice of repeating short, ejaculatory prayers during free moments or while working. Fidelity to sacred reading should work a gradual change in the reader’s relationships with other people, helping him or her become more generous, considerate, gentle, and less selfish, cranky, gossipy, touchy. Sacred reading spreads out into daily life as a power of ongoing reformation and conversion and enabling the reader to recognize and respond to the word of God spoken at diverse times and circumstances. . . . (p. 18)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Do You Drink Coffee to Avoid Naps? Try Both.

Researchers in multiple studies are finding that drinking coffee just before a short nap is better for your alertness than napping or coffee-drinking alone. The idea is that caffeine takes about 20 minutes to digest, so if you drink a cup quickly then snooze off for about 20 minutes, you will use up the sleepiness in your brain before you receive the perkiness you just consumed. For a more scientific explanation, see the article.

sleepy

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Astor: 'Churchill, if I were your wife...'

Perhaps you've heard this story about Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Nancy Astor, who apparently had a famous rivalry. Astor was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons (1919). Her Wikipedia page notes her quick wit and, though they are poorly documented, her trading of insults with Churchill. One rumored exchange says Churchill disliked her being in parliament, saying that having a woman there was like being intruded upon in the bathroom. Astor replied, "You're not handsome enough to have such fears."

A familiar anecdote has the viscountess in a disdainful state of her prime minister. She says, "If I were your wife, I'd poison your coffee." Churchill replies, "If I were your husband, I'd drink it."

Astor's Wikipedia scholars attribute this quote, not to Churchill, but to his marvelously funny friend, Lord Birkenhead. I can't suggest Birkenhead did not have this exchange, but I'm fascinated to learn that the insult is much older than he, Churchill, or Astor. The Quote Investigator, my new favorite website, reports the earliest recording of this joke comes from an 1899 Oswego, New York, newspaper. It was completely anonymous, being passed off as something the reporter overheard on the subway. The account was picked up by many newspapers, so by the time Birkenhead and Astor may have conversed, it would have been an old joke.

What's more amusing is many people have claimed credit for it or given it to others. When Groucho Marx told the joke in 1962, he told it of George B. Shaw insulting a woman in his audience. In 1900, a comic named Pinckney claimed to have invented the dialogue a short time before the interview and that it had already worn itself out by flying around the world.

So if Lady Astor actually told Churchill or Birkenhead that she would poison them if they were married, she had plenty of opportunity to know she was setting herself up for a great joke.

From Out of the Bloo
“And he shall be their peace”

From today’s reading of Matthew 2 and Luke 2:39-52

Matthew 2 is not a peaceful chapter. It describes the paranoia of King Herod “the great”, the flight of Jesus’ family to Egypt, and the subsequent slaughter of the youngest children of Bethlehem.

This record of the early life of Jesus already begins to demonstrate the strife and murderous foolishness that attends those who are “kings” in this life when the King of kings has come to claim ownership. The great bringing low of the mighty and raising up of the humble has already begun. Strongholds will be cast down.

But not without a fight.

Matthew records the fulfillment of a prophecy from Micah 5, by quoting this portion of it:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:6

I took a look at the fuller context of the quoted passage, which is below:

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
-Micah 5:1-5

Little Bethlehem, humble, somewhat of a backwater. From you has come this One we call Jesus, ancient of days, the great Shepherd, majestic to the ends of the earth, who has become our peace.

All the Herods of this world can rage and scheme and murder, but they will not prevail. Their evil, though devastating in their moment, is temporary. “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” They will wage war to no avail; the Prince of peace has come, humble and born in humility, born of humble parents in a humble town, King of kings, Shepherd of his flock to the ends of the earth, mighty to save.

From internetmonk.com
Saturday Ramblings: Labor Day Edition, 2014

1681640-poster-1280-1-men-at-lunch-poster

Happy Labor Day weekend!

In my heart, mind, and body rhythms, this weekend will always be the end of summer. However, here in Indiana, where we have an abomination called a “balanced school schedule,” we are already a month into fall. In fact, on July 31 my grandson announced to me that he was going to the pool on the next day because it was the (and I quote) “last day of summer.” What are they doing to our children? I’m pretty sure that the opening sequence of the Andy Griffith Show — you know, where Andy and Opie are walking down the road to go fishing — was filmed in summer, maybe even in August. If I take my grandson fishing like that now, we’ll be facing truancy and contributing the delinquency of a minor charges! And if we’re a month into fall already, that means Christmas decorations will be going up any day now, and — worst of all — the airwaves will soon be filled with campaign ads for the elections! This whole thing has made me so crazy, I’m rambling!

Which, by the way, is what we’re supposed to be doing together this morning. C’mon, let’s get away from my rantings . . . and ramble!

settings-iconlabor-day-postcardAccording to this informative Time Magazine article, we owe the date of Labor Day to our nation’s greatest president ☺, Grover Cleveland, who signed it into law in 1896 in recognition of the growing labor movement. The piece notes that International Worker’s Day is actually May 1, but scholars explain that Labor Day is a “government alternative” to IWD because they wanted to avoid linking the holiday with the infamous Haymarket Affair in Chicago, in which many people died when workers marched to demand the 8-hour work day.

Here is one pundit who builds a strong case that on Labor Day we should think about the positive impact unions make in our economy and how we should be concerned about making them strong again. In Robert L. Borasage’s opinion, “This Labor Day, we should do more than celebrate workers — we should understand how vital empowering workers and reviving worker unions is to rebuilding a broad middle class.”

However, in this piece by Morgan O. Reynolds, the author argues that, although one can make a case for other voluntary worker associations that represent the interests of employees, labor unions as we have had them are not good for the economy. Why? Because (1) they “do best in heavily regulated, monopolistic environments,” (2) “gains to union members come at the expense of those who must shift to lower-paying or less desirable jobs or go unemployed,” and (3) “despite considerable rhetoric to the contrary, unions have blocked the economic advance of blacks, women, and other minorities.”

What do you think? Discuss.

settings-iconUS News & World Report has a list of the 100 Best Jobs in the U.S. Here is their ranking of the top 10, based on, “employment opportunity, good salary, manageable work-life balance and job security.”

  1. diverse-medical-career-group-849x565Software developer
  2. Computer systems analyst
  3. Dentist
  4. Nurse practitioner
  5. Pharmacist
  6. Registered nurse
  7. Physical therapist
  8. Physician
  9. Web developer
  10. Dental hygienist

The worlds of technology and medicine dominate the top 50 (medicine alone accounts for 40% of all the jobs), with a nod here and there to engineering, finance, and education. Oh, and #49 — Nail technician.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t find “pastor,” “chaplain,” “blogger” or “baseball fan” anywhere on the list.

settings-iconAll this work has to make a person tired, doesn’t it? Maybe a good “power nap” is just the thing for you. Did you know that drinking some coffee or ingesting some other form of caffeine before shutting your eyes might help that nap be more effective, more refreshing? Say hello to the “coffee nap.” Read about it in the article: Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone.

settings-iconWhile we’re discussing work, let’s think for a moment about “good works” from a Christian perspective. August 28 was the anniversary of St. Augustine’s death, and Relevant Magazine shared 15 of his most memorable quotes that have helped to shape Christian thought over the centuries. Here’s one of my favorites:

On Serving Those in Need
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

Here is what St. Augustine said about the relationship of faith and good works. He is commenting on the relationship between Ephesians 2:8-9 (“not of works”) and Ephesians 2:10 (“for good works”).

We are framed, therefore, that is, formed and created, “in the good works which” we have not ourselves prepared, but “God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” It follows, then, dearly beloved, beyond all doubt, that as your good life is nothing else than God’s grace, so also the eternal life which is the recompense of a good life is the grace of God; moreover it is given gratuitously, even as that is given gratuitously to which it is given. But that to which it is given is solely and simply grace; this therefore is also that which is given to it, because it is its reward;-grace is for grace, as if remuneration for righteousness; in order that it may be true, because it is true, that God “shall reward every man according to his works.”

settings-iconNightsounds-BillPearceHere is another suggestion for getting a good night’s sleep and having sweet dreams so that you’ll awake refreshed and energized to go to work in the morning. Way back in the 1970′s and 80′s, we used to listen to a late-night radio program out of Moody Radio in Chicago that soothed our souls and made our eyelids heavy. It was called “Nightsounds,” and its host was a man with an incomparably consoling voice named Bill Pearce, who spoke gentle words of encouragement and played peaceful music into the wee hours. Now, not only can you go to the Nightsounds website and listen to these programs, but there is an app for your phone or tablet so you can listen anytime and drift off, thinking the loveliest thoughts . . .

Check out the Nightsounds App here.

settings-iconA lot of pastors and ministry leaders are working hard to make their churches grow. But according to this piece by Alexander Griswold, it only takes one simple step to shrink your church. Here is his argument: “Every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization on sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.” He cites the usual suspects to bolster his case: the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the UCC, the Presbyterian Church USA. On the other hand, he points to growing conservative bodies such as the Assemblies of God, the Roman Catholic Church, the LDS.

So, the question is, is this causation? or correlation? I don’t know; what do you think? Griswold claims that conservative Christians never have to sacrifice the one responsibility of growing their churches to fulfill their other responsibility of upholding what they think is just. Is he right about that? Have mainline churches who have made decisions about broadening their positions on sexuality made a bargain to sacrifice growing their churches to affirm what they think is a justice issue? And have conservative churches, in contrast, faithfully struck the balance of upholding both values? Or have they sacrificed other things?

settings-iconWe end with a guy who is a real “piece of work.” I apologize ahead of time — I just couldn’t help myself. Here is the promo for “pastor” Ed Young’s latest sermon series.

Yes, Ed. That’s exactly how I imagine God. As a drone (I guess that should be Drone) who is constantly spying on my life so he can strike when I get out of line. Get your drone on?!?

From The Living Room
Poured out

“I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!” –Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, played by William H. Macy, Magnolia

I used to think that I was
An empty jar
With my face turned upward
To wait for the sweetest wine
To fill me up and quench my thirst

But now I know
That I have been filled up
With water and carried to the desert
To give life to thirsty travelers
On their way to another country

And they will pour me out
Into cups and troughs

But they will keep dipping me
Into the coolest wells
They will wrap me up
So I will not break

And little did I know
That these were wandering princes
And high-born ladies
That this poor clay jar
Has the privilege to love


(This is a response to and a ruminating upon this article. I recommend it highly.)


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: August 30, 2014


“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.” ~Isaac Asimov

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Who is my neighbor? A terrorist, apparently.

Little did I know, when I moved to Robbinsdale, Minnesota, that I was relocating to a seedbed of treason. But so it appears. Not one but two jihadist casualties overseas have been identified as former students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. And it gets closer than that, as I'll explain.

First, a little orientation. Robbinsdale Cooper High School is not in fact located in Robbinsdale. The historical reasons are convoluted (I don't actually know them), but enough to say that the school district includes several inner ring suburbs. In any case, it's close to me.

More than that, early reports (the information seems to have been redacted now; perhaps it was in error) stated that the latest casualty, Douglas McAuthor (sic) McCain, dead in Syria, lived on Oregon Avenue in New Hope.

Before I bought my house, I lived in an apartment building on Oregon Avenue in New Hope. New Hope isn't that big. Oregon Avenue isn't that long. We were neighbors. I very likely rubbed shoulders with him at some point.

Even so, I find it hard to generate a lot of sympathy for the young man. He was born in America, and New Hope isn't a ghetto. He had ample opportunities to respond to the gospel. Instead he joined a death cult to murder infidels and rape women.

Still, after some consideration, I can think of a couple reasons to pity him.

First of all, he had the misfortune to be educated by the American public school system. I have no personal experience with Robbinsdale Cooper High School (except for helping to pay for it), but I'm confident he was taught in the same way as most American public school students. He would have been informed that there's one big problem in the world - America. All the world's troubles - political, economical, environmental - all come back to the Great Satan that is America. If he had a smidgen of decency or idealism, he might easily have been convinced that the best way to make the world a better place would be to destroy America.

Secondly, he had the misfortune to be born a boy in the late 20th Century. As such he would have been scolded and punished for acting like a boy, unfavorably compared to girls, and told he had no necessary place in a society where a family with a father is purely optional.

Why wouldn't he be attracted to an ideology that glorifies manhood and honors the things that a man can do?

We have prepared a scourge for our own backs in the boys we're raising. Douglas McAuthor McCain is just one of the first.

From Transforming Sermons
Recharging

It's not a coincidence that a fall-off in posting here has coincided with my wife and my youngest son's going off to college. This month, for the first time in 28 years, we don't have at least one son living at home with us. We're happy for our sons, of course, but getting used to an empty nest takes some mental and emotional adjustment. Apparently that means I don't have a lot of energy left over for blogging.

It's possible that my once again slacking off on blogging may disappoint both my regular readers, but I do plan to be back at it soon. Thanks again to both of  you for visiting.

From Transforming Sermons
Changing circumstances

Royce Ogle reflects on the wrong way to pray:

Often we pray for God to change our circumstances. I have done it and you have too.
Meanwhile, God might have orchestrated your circumstances so he can change you. So, instead of asking for things to change so we can be happy, maybe we should ask, "Lord help me to see how I need to change in my present circumstances."
Indeed. I recommend Royce's whole article.

From Out of the Bloo
Simeon’s blessing

From today’s reading of Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
- Luke 2:25-35

A long time ago the gentle old pastor teaching my New Testament class said that he figured Simeon was just a kindly old man who said this to all of the glowing young mothers with babies who came into the temple. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples”.

It doesn’t really read that way, does it? I think that it’s easy to forget the situation Mary, Joseph, Simeon and the rest of the people of Israel were in at this time. They were oppressed and living in a much harsher world than most of us know. They were groaning for redemption.

I love this prophetic word spoken to Mary and Joseph by Simeon: “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel”. Simeon is speaking in the Spirit, and he continues the theme of these very early parts of the gospel: light has dawned! The sun of righteousness is rising! This is not just light for Israel, but a revelation to the Gentiles as well.

Jesus has been born, the One who is the Light and who casts down and exalts.

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

This, by the way, would demolish my gentle old NT professor’s idea that Simeon was just a sweet old guy who liked encouraging young mothers.

Jesus came to bring the fall and the rising of many. As you have probably noticed, those who are already high don’t like being brought low and therefore Jesus, who had already willingly brought himself lower than we can imagine, for our sakes, was going to be violently opposed; Mary was destined for great heartbreak. This isn’t a Hallmark message.

And yet hope and glory permeates Simeon’s message to Mary and Joseph. The Rescuer has come. The day is dawning. Jesus is here!

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

- Matthew 1:21

From Semicolon
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

“Not everybody can be the rock at the top of the pile. There have to be some rocks at the bottom to support those at the top.”

What if you’re a kid who’s just kind of slow in school? No label, no dyslexia, no dysgraphia, no autism spectrum, no learning disability. School is just hard for you, and you’re almost smart enough to pass your spelling test, almost good at tetherball, almost cool, almost good enough at something to make your parents proud. But not quite.

That’s Albie. I think Lisa Graff has drawn a vivid character sketch of a boy who’s just average, maybe a little below average, in intelligence, but full of heart. Albie isn’t a saint any more than he’s a genius. But his heart is in the right place. He tries to do the right thing—as soon as he figures out what that right thing is. He makes mistakes. He loses a couple of good friends over the course of the story when he does and says things that are not exactly best practice. But Albie is endearing and kind—most of the time.

I wonder what parents and kids and teachers are going to think of this antithesis of the “you are special” message that is so embedded in most middle grade fiction. Albie isn’t really special; he’s kind of an anti-hero, a Napoleon Dynamite, not very good at anything but willing to keep plugging at it anyway. He’s not Leo the Late Bloomer; nor is he the classic middle grade fantasy hero who discovers that he is really a prince in disguise. He doesn’t have a superpower. Albie is just a below average intelligence, untalented, unexceptional kid. Are parents OK with the idea that their kid may be “almost”? Are kids going to want Albie to become something—smarter, stronger, braver, more talented—for them to identify and like him? Are teachers going to be OK with the idea that most kids never will “excel” (otherwise it wouldn’t be excelling, would it?)

Or do we cling to the idea that all the children are above average in Lake Woebegone?

Albie considers what his math teacher told him about the name-calling/bullying he’s enduring:

“On my way back to class, I thought about what Mr. Clifton said. I wasn’t sure he was right, that I got to decide what words hurt me. Because some words just hurt.

It did hurt when I said it in my head, no matter what Mr. Clifton had told me. That word dummy poked me in the brain, in the stomach, in the chest, every time I heard it.

Dummy.”

The book has a realistic plot development and conclusion, too. Not everything turns out perfect for Albie. The bullies and cool kids don’t suddenly turn over a new leaf and accept Albie for who he is. Albie doesn’t completely figure out how to deal with the hurt that the other kids kids cause him. He loses a good friend when he and the friend do something that Albie knows is wrong. We never know if his parents, especially his dad, come to have more realistic and compassionate expectations for him. But things do turn out almost, and for Albie, and mostly for his parents, that’s good enough.

From internetmonk.com
Meeting Jesus Through Community?

1100px-1DundasI am involved in a number of different communities. Some are communities of faith, but most are not. Now, this may sound like a cop out, but my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.

Let me introduce you to first to my non faith communities:

1. My neighborhood. We used to have a reasonably social neighborhood. Typically there would be 1 or 2 block parties a year, at either Christmas or during the summer. The two sets of organizers moved away, and for the past ten years there really hasn’t been any group social functions. In my area of Canada it only seems to be the summer time when you get a chance to interact with your neighbors. Case in point, my next door neighbor recently met the lady who lives diagonally across from me. They had been living in their houses for 25 and 50 years respectively. Their is probably only one family we know well enough in our immediate neighborhood to invite to join in with one of our faith communities.

2. Our kids’ school communities. We moved into our neighborhood when our eldest was less than a year old (he is about to turn 20). It was not until he started school that we started forming relationships within our larger community (see #1). Often the friends we made live several blocks away. We would not have met them had it not been for the school community. While I am not as involved in the school community as I used to be, many of the relationships remain. Three families from our school communities have attended our church as a result of our interaction with them. Four two of these families is was a one time only visit.

3. My daughter’s cycling community. My daughter has been racing competitively for nearly two years. In that time I have gotten to know many of the other parents. Some of them quite well. Now when we go to cycling events many of us eat a communal meal. We are friends on facebook and there is much encouragement that goes on. In fact, we have become friends with parents of riders from other teams as well. One of the parents from our team has invited us to a barbecue tomorrow (more on this later). It is in this group of people that I see the most potential for making spiritual connections. They are the sort of people that I think Jesus would like to hang out with. They like to drink and party and have a good time. They are also open to discussions about faith. Having gotten to know me over two years they know that I am not some kind of religious nut job. I just can’t imagine inviting them to church. They wouldn’t fit it. They wouldn’t feel comfortable. They wouldn’t be back.

4. My work community. My current work position is quite different from my previous one. In my previous position at a marketing company, only about 5% of the company attended church. In my current position in a software development company the number is about 50%. In my current position however I am a manager and as such I feel a lot less free to talk about matters of faith. The questions do come, and I am happy to answer them when they arrive. Sometimes those questions have led to others become followers of Christ, but I have always played a minor role in the process.

5. My facebook community. Facebook has been really good with helping me reconnect with old friends, and helped me make some new ones. Many of my friends have extreme views (both left and right), but I try to be pretty moderate with my comments. I don’t link from facebook to Internet Monk, as I know that what I write hear will upset many of my friends, both left and right. While I don’t say much about matters of faith on facebook, I have gotten into a few discussions when incorrect information about Christianity is being disseminated.

Moving on to the faith communities:

6. Internet Monk. Many of my Christian associates do not understand Internet Monk. They fail to realize that it is primarily of those who have tried evangelicalism and found it wanting. They fail to realize that while Internet Monk rejects much of evangelicalism, we are seekers after Jesus. We know that through Internet Monk some have come to Christ, others have returned to Christ, and still others have been strengthened and encouraged in their faith. Michael Spencer focused on a “Jesus Shaped Spirituality”, one that cut away at the cultural baggage being currently associated with Christianity. There are certain non Christian friends who, while not being able to appreciate the whole of Internet Monk, would be interested in several of the articles that have been written here. Michael Spencer’s devotional commentary on Mark is being edited in such a way that it will encourage others to “Reconsider Jesus.”

7. My small group. I lead a small group. We have about 13 adults involved, all at various stages in their spiritual walk. We share a meal and do a bible study every two weeks. Our prayer times are special as we do certainly care for each other. One of our members came to faith in Christ relatively recently and was baptized about a year ago. We have potential, but at the same time I think it is hard for non Christians to join in with us. Much of that focuses around material selection and finding resources for small groups that is appropriate for both new and established believers.

8. My church. There is a lot I like about my church. The leadership definitely has the desire to reach out to our larger community. Howver, in doing so the church has paradoxically developed an us versus them mentallity when it comes to interacting with non christians. Couple that with having almost no social interaction with church members outside of small group, and I have reached the point where I am no longer comfortable inviting outsiders into my church community.

So really, I am a bit stuck. I don’t have a great landing place for those in my non faith communities who might want to consider exploring Christianity and who Jesus was. I don’t have a faith community that I think I could plug them into. This is something that I will want to be thinking about over the next few months to see what kind of direction that will take.

How about you? Have you had similar experiences in the interaction between your communities? How comfortable are you inviting your non faith communities into your faith communities? What issues or barriers do you face? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

From Out of the Bloo
Malachi and the Women of Luke 1

From today’s reading of Luke 1, John 1:1-14

In reading Luke 1 this time around, I noticed a few things that I’m not sure I had picked up on before (and isn’t that often the way things go when reading the Word. Always alive, always fresh).

Luke 1 is book-ended with the flavor of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi. But the main focus of the chapter is the women. These valiant women, the aged Elizabeth and the young – probably very young – Mary. The Lord gives them a voice while the men in their life are for the most part silent. This is our God, giving voice to the voiceless, strengthening weak hands and feeble hopes, casting down the proud and lifting up the humble, bringing fertility to the barren and removing her reproach.

The chapter starts with the angel Gabriel visiting the priest Zechariah in the temple and describing to him the career of his son, a son who Zechariah thought would never exist.

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. – Luke 1:16, 17

Surely Zechariah knew what Holy Writ the angel was referring to. In the very last chapter of the book of Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament canon, God says “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  - Malachi 4:5-6.

Except there is no “lest I come and and strike”. There will not be utter destruction, at least not yet. Yet the Lord is certainly coming, very soon, and has need of a faithful herald to prepare for him a people.

Zechariah asks what seem, to me, to be some reasonable questions, and is immediately struck mute. He doesn’t get to talk for nine months or even have a say in the naming of his son. But somehow I think he’s OK with this. Elizabeth his wife, who he loves, has been barren her whole life. She is no longer young, and hope probably has faded when it comes to having children. But this problem is small for God. The Lord has need of a faithful herald. In a moment, the Lord removes Elizabeth’s reproach among the people and makes their lifelong dream come true.

I don’t think God needed to do this. Elizabeth didn’t need to be the one to bear John the Baptist. God could have chosen a more practically equipped vessel. But God loves bringing streams in the desert, water out of rocks, much bread out of little bread. He gets a kick out of it. It’s what He is about.

Gabriel, who seems to get many of the best assignments, also gives Mary the good news that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son, and speaks to her this breathtaking promise:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” - Luke 1:30-33

Much of the rest of the chapter is devoted to these two women exulting together over this promise and what the Lord has done for them, and will do through them, and will do through their sons. Elizabeth, who Gabriel cheerfully describes as “she who was called barren” is all smiles and shouts of joy and blessings when she meets Mary. And Mary, this young lady, shows her valiant heart as she speaks of her warrior God:

He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Luke 1:51-53

The Lord Jesus came to cast down and to lift up. But He began by casting himself down. The deep dive of humility undertaken by Jesus is breathtaking. He willingly brought himself down from his own mighty throne and took on a very humble estate, patiently waiting for his own exaltation as he accomplished the mission his Father had given him.

Zechariah finally gets his own voice back when John is born. I think being forced to be quiet for so long had gotten Zechariah to thinking over what the angel had told him. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gave full voice to this Malachian blessing to John:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79

It kind of hearkens back to this, doesn’t it?

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.” – Malachi 4:2-3

The sunrise shall visit us from on high, the sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings!

The apostle John later wrote of these things, this way.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:6-14

John wrote about a light that rose on the people in darkness, and births that were not man’s idea but God’s, and belief.

John wrote about seeing Jesus, and in that glimpse seeing all of our dreams come true.

From Semicolon
Magic in the Mix by Annie Barrows

Magic in the Mix is a sequel to the author’s first book about time-traveling twins, The Magic Half (which I’ve not read, unfortunately). Miri and Molly are twins, sort of, who have two older brothers (identical twins) and two younger sisters (also identical twins). Miri and Molly aren’t identical, and they’re not really twins, since Molly “moved” to now from a different time period, the Great Depression. But everybody, including their family, thinks they are fraternal twins, and Miri and Molly are glad to act as twin sisters, part of a very unusual family with three sets of twins and living in a magical house—that no one else besides them knows is magical.

Confusing? Yes, but the book is fun. Moll and Miri get to travel in time again, and their brothers, Ray and Robbie, get to experience the magic, too. But this time the place and time where they travel isn’t much fun: the middle of the Civil War is a dirty, dangerous time. Can Miri and Molly rescue Ray and Robbie who have been captured by the Confederates and are due to be hanged as spies at daybreak? Can Molly save her mother from the tragic future that Molly knows is in store for her?

The time travel rules and rationale had some holes, but they weren’t big, gaping holes. Molly and Miri understand that time travel is only permitted when there is something in the past that they need to “fix.” However, it sometimes seems as if there would never have been anything to fix if Miri and Molly had stayed in their own place and time to begin with. And the explanation of time as a layer cake was less than helpful to my time travel-tortured brain.

Still, this series, by the author of the adult best-seller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and of the children’s beginning readers about Ivy and Bean, is a creditable entry in the time travel/historical fiction genre for middle graders. I was a little uncomfortable when Miri and Molly began talking, almost praying, to the magic, asking “It” to come and take them on an adventure or to show them what to do when they were in trouble. But other than that, the book was a good, solid read.

From The Wilsonian Institute
Deacon: 8 Month Update



Weight:
Roughly 20 lbs

Length:
About 30 inches

Clothing Size:
He's still in 9 month clothes right now, though I've started trying to stock up on 12 month stuff since he seems to be pretty snug in most things these days. I'm pretty sure by Fall he will officially be in 12 month clothes.

Nicknames:
Buster, Bubba, Booger and Stinker. Now that he's getting more and more active I find myself using Booger and Stinker more often :wink:

Sleep:
We're finally back to a normal sleep schedule (praise the Lamb!). Recently I've been putting him down between 8:00 - 8:45 and he's been sleeping until 6:30-ish with one dream feed around 10:30 or 11:00. I know I need to drop the dream feed soon, but it's usually the only time I can steal some cuddles, so for now it stays!

Diet:
All of the same foods as last month with the addition of spinach, broccoli, oatmeal, pumpkin and sweet potato puffs (similar to cheerios, but they dissolve and are much messier). Watching him eat broccoli was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He looked so betrayed and confused every time I tried to feed him another bite!

Loves:
Army crawling, climbing over things, sweet potato puffs, licking/biting Junebug and getting tickled by Mom or Dad :-)

Dislikes:
Broccoli.

Milestones:
We are getting more belly-laughs and he seems to be paying more attention when we are talking to him. I don't think he understands what we're saying yet, but he is definitely keying into the fact that we're talking to him! He's still army crawling EVERYWHERE and has recently started climbing over some of the barricades I've set up. Time for baby gates!

Best Moment:
This may make me a terrible Mom, but this broccoli video takes the cake...


Worst Moment:
We had a couple of really cranky days last week that were rough on everybody (especially Mama and Junebug :wink:). Thankfully it passed quickly and Deacon is back to his happy-go-lucky self!

Other Tidbits:
- When Deacon gets in a really good mood pretty much anything can make him laugh. We had a blast the other day in Walmart when he decided that saying "hi!" over and over again was the funniest thing I'd ever done!
- Last Sunday Deacon moved up a room in the church nursery. He is now officially a Platypus and this Mama can't handle it! I just kept getting flashes of him going to kindergarten and then college. *sniff* It's all happening so quickly!!

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Russian Roulette' and 'Mr. Swirlee,' by Mike Faricy



I'm inclined to support my local mystery writers, as you know, so when I got a Kindle deal on one of Mike Faricy's Dev Haskell mysteries, I thought I'd try it out. Glad I did. These are not highbrow mysteries, nor are they world-weary meditations on existential dilemmas. They're just fun private eye stories that poke gentle fun at the form. I liked them.

Dev Haskell is a private eye in St. Paul. He has no office, but does a marginal business out of a string of scruffy bars. At the beginning of Russian Roulette he's approached in one of those bars by a drop dead gorgeous woman with an accent (she says it's French and he goes along with it) who asks him to look for her missing sister. Thinking more with a lower organ than with his higher functions, he follows her into a plot involving prostitution and sex trafficking.

The big joke in Russian Roulette is the way Dev overworks the traditional private eye pastime of getting injured and not letting it stop him. Not only does he suffer the liturgical beatings and a bullet wound that any literary private eye expects, but he also gets poisoned and car bombed. It stretches credibility that he's able to function at all, let alone defend himself, by the end of the story, but that's all part of the joke.


In the second book, Mr. Swirlee, Dev is hired by a local business mogul, a guy who runs a fleet of ice cream trucks, to investigate a death threat. Not only is "Mr. Swirlee" a lousy, tightwad client, but he's a crook as well. Nevertheless Dev does meet an attractive woman, and he doesn't get injured quite as badly this time out.

The Dev Haskell books are pure entertainment and very well done. Cautions for the usual stuff. Recommended for grownups who know the genre and don't mind laughing gently at it.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Haikus Superus

This site delivers haiku found in the decisions written by Supreme Court justices. I love it.

Here, for example,
standard supplied gasoline
and oil to Signal.

(taken from Perkins v. Standard Oil Company of California (1969))

He, however, did
not obtain a warrant to
arrest respondent.

(from United States v. Johnson (1982))

The applicant must
pass the examination
prescribed by the Board.

(from Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc (1976))

For how long a time
have you known it to be used
for these purposes?

(from Peters v. Hanson (1889)) (via Books, Inq.)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Non-Reviews of Two Books

Loren Eaton refuses to review Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep. "Can't talk about how Abbott walks a tightrope over the chasm between the literary and genre worlds, every sentence showing her knowledge of the writer's craft while the subject matter stays committed to delighting the reader," he says, leaving us to wonder what could possibly be in this book.

Jonathan Rogers talks about the origins of one of his books. "When I sat down to write The Charlatan's Boy, the first sentence I wrote turned out to be the first sentence of the finished product: 'I don't remember one thing about the day I was born.'"

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Death's Doors': a snippet and an apologia



CHAPTER I

The Lifestyle Services case worker seemed friendly and genuinely interested in him. Tom Galloway wasn't entirely pleased about that. The case workers he'd dealt with in the Twin Cities had all seemed overworked and time-pinched. The desks in their cubicles had been piled with file folders and official bulletins, and they themselves had exhaled an institutional miasma that seemed to say, "Don't show me any red flags and we won't ask too many questions."

But Megan Siegenthaler seemed to have all the time in the world, and was cordially curious about everything having to do with Tom and his family. Her small office had been painted a cheery mint green, and a tasteful landscape print hung on one wall. No family pictures though. He supposed those might be stressful for some of the case subjects. Or just as likely she had no family.

She herself was a honey-haired woman who must have been very attractive once and was still comfortably good-looking. Her green eyes were especially remarkable. She smoked a long thin cigarette, as was her right in all places except for hospital ICUs ever since the passage of the Smokers' Re-enfranchisement Act. She'd offered Tom a breathing device, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, but he'd turned it down. Tobacco smoke had never bothered him much.

"I suppose it's pretty dull here in Epsom compared to life in the Cities," she said.

"I like it dull," said Tom.

"Does Christine like it dull too?"

Tom adjusted his mouth in something like a smile. "No. She'd like to move back."

"What do you think about that?"

"I don't care what she'd like. I'm trying to keep her alive."

Megan picked up the Galloway file and flipped through it. She had very long fingernails, enameled in red. Tom had always wondered why anyone who had to work with paper or keyboards would bother with such a self-inflicted handicap. "I think we ought to talk about this," she said. "Your last case worker made a note about your attitude. You realize that, in the long run, you can't keep your daughter alive, don't you?"

Tom kicked himself in a mental shin. He should have learned to keep his mouth shut by now. He didn't want to have this discussion again.

"I know what the law says," he grunted.

"Then you know that if Christine decides to end her life, you have no legal power to stop her. The Constitution's on her side. If she complains to us that you're interfering, she can be taken from you and escorted to the Happy Endings Clinic by a Lifestyle Services worker. The law is very explicit."

That's just a snippet from Death's Doors, my newly released e-book (by the way, Orie says it's non-DRM, which means you can convert it to your e-reader's format using the Calibre utility, even if you don't have a Kindle). I thought I'd just take a few moments to talk about this book, and what I think it means (I could, of course, be wrong).

I originally wrote Death's Doors about a decade ago, as best I remember. As I did before with Wolf Time (which Baen tells me will soon be available in e-book form), I simply sighted along the lines of current cultural trends and imagined what the world would be like a little way down the road. As it happened, the book didn't get published until we actually were down the road a few miles. But no harm done, I think. The things I predict haven't happened yet, but seem just as probable. Or more.

I deal with two cultural developments in Death's Doors. One is assisted suicide. I'm sure some readers will say that a constitutional "right to die" would never be extended to minors, and certainly not without parental consent.

My answer is, "Yeah. Remember how well that worked with abortion."

The other is the worldwide expansion of Islam, particularly in Europe, but also in America.

Nothing has happened in the years since my first draft that makes me think the kind of scenario I describe has gotten less likely.

Then a word on language. This one isn't for the kids. Probably OK for older teens, depending on the rules in your home. As in the past, I allow a small amount of cursing, but mask obscenities. I've discussed my views on this before. I lament that it's impossible to write a realistic conversation in our age that doesn't include bad language. But to pretend it isn't so would be to paint a false picture of the world, and lower my credibility with the non-Christian reader. And the non-Christian reader has always been my target audience.

Finally, I haven't discussed this with Ori, but I think it's the thing to do. If you have an established blog where you review books, contact me at lars (at) larswalker.com, and I'll get you a free review copy. Kindle format only.

Thank you for your support.


From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
The Joys of W. H. Auden

"One of the joys of reading late Auden is the pleasure he takes in rare words used correctly," Patrick Kurp reminds us. "Like his friend Dr. Oliver Sacks, he loved trolling the Oxford English Dictionary for good catches." Catches like dapatical, for which you'll have to read his post for context.

Alexander McCall Smith wrote a piece last year about the importance of Auden with a few personal anecdotes. "When I started to write novels set in Edinburgh, the characters in these books - unsurprisingly, perhaps - began to show an interest in Auden. In particular, Isabel Dalhousie, the central character in my Sunday Philosophy Club series, thought about Auden rather a lot - and quoted him, too. A couple of years after the first of these novels was published, I received a letter from his literary executor, Edward Mendelson, who is a professor of English at Columbia University in New York. . . . I then wrote Professor Mendelson into an Isabel Dalhousie novel, creating a scene in which he comes to Edinburgh to deliver a public lecture on the sense of neurotic guilt in Auden's verse."

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Death's Doors



Dateline: Minneapolis

My new novel, Death's Doors, is now available for download for Amazon Kindle.

In the near future, suicide is a constitutional right. Tom Galloway is an ordinary single father, just trying to keep his rebellious and depressed daughter from going to the Happy Endings Clinic.

The last thing he needs is a ninth-century Viking time traveler dropping into his life.

But Tom is about to embark on the adventure of his life. One that will change the world.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
If you look closely...

...you can see Phil Wade in the background.



Have a good weekend.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Myrna Loy Serving Coffee

Due to the immediate, overwhelming response to the photo in our last post, our executives have decided to post another one. Here we see the gorgeous Myrna Loy serving Navy sailors in an canteen during WWII. This wasn't a one time stint for her. She stopped acting to support the war effort and worked closely with The Red Cross. Learn more about her in this review of her biography, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl In Hollywood.

Myrna Loy serving coffee to service men

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Coffee Week Selections

1. A Colorado coffee shop, located in an housing development for the homeless, is attempting to help the people around them as well as change their community's perspective on the capabilities of homeless people.

"People don't know who's behind the counter when they stop here," Kelly Kelley said. "It could be any one of us in that low-income or homeless category. We want to make a positive experience for people."

2. 10 reason why fair-trade coffee doesn't do what it claims, and plenty of pushback in the comments. "Fairtrade is not a one time, cure-all, it provides a framework. It's a tool and if applied well, producers move up the value chain, negotiate better terms, and strengthen their communities."

I remember a coffee roaster saying he saw little value in fair trade certification, because he knew a farm received certification on only half of its crop because they couldn't afford the price. No difference in the coffee they grew. They just could not afford to pay for the fair trade label for the second half of what they produced.

3. Costa Coffee, United Kingdom's largest coffee chain, has replaced its club card for an app.

4. Starbucks has gone to Colombia, and the Colombian national chain Juan Valdez is expanding in response. "In downtown Miami, a new Juan Valdez cafe feels like a slice of Colombia: traditional floor tiling, warm wood details, woven baskets, fresh arepas, and pictures of Colombia and its coffee. A poster of a smiling coffee farmer hangs near the entrance, greeting customers with the company's key new message: 'Carlos is one of the 500,000 coffee growers who owns this coffee shop.'" Leaning on their history has proven profitable so far.

5. A young Lauren Bacall with coffee. (I believe this photo would be rated PG-13 because it depicts smoking. Steel yourself.)

Lauren Bacall, young, coffee, cigarettes

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Verse about the Big World

"It's voguish to say poems are about the making of poems, but the good ones normally engage something out there in the big bad world beyond the classroom," write Patrick Kurp.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Danielle Sacks Talks about Her Coffee Research

In the last post, we linked to Fast Company's Danielle Sacks' piece on third wave coffee producers. Food Republic asks her about her experience researching that article, whether her drinking tastes have changed, and how she believes Starbucks will respond to this bit of competition.

As I write in the story, Starbucks doesn't like anybody infringing on its turf. They want it both ways - they'll do as little as possible to gain street cred in the third wave coffee community, but they still want to appeal to the masses, which is the much bigger market. On one hand Starbucks is increasingly pushing its single origin "Reserve" line (brewed on Clover single cup precision brewers), yet its investments and acquisitions of late feel like a coffee company that's leaning more towards fast food (fizzy drinks, drive-thrus). At the end of the day, if they felt like third wave was a gnat worth swatting, they could just purchase Stumptown or Blue Bottle, both of which have investors that will want to monetize their investment at some point. It'll be interesting to see which of these players might end up part of the big green giant.

From The Living Room
oh! holy crap it’s been a month and a half

- Hi, blog readers. Sorry. Again.

- Things I have been up to: Reading (but that’s a given by now, I hope), writing some stuff here and there that is not yet fit for public consumption, thinking about writing stuff but not actually doing it because my brain hurts (more on that later), watching the news (which, in the past few weeks, has been both a terrible and a great idea–more on that later, too), planning a party, watching way too many YouTube videos, and, well, recovering from pneumonia.

- Yeah, pneumonia…I was wicked sick for a couple of weeks (!) and was dealing with things like 104* fevers and not being able to take deep breaths and coughing up green things. Oh, and weird medicinal side effects, too.

- It’s very interesting, though, because my being forced to slow down and not do a whole lot except read the news and watch YouTube and movies means, well, God finally got hold of my attention and pointed out all the ways that I’d become really self-centered and self-righteous and, as a result, I became really awful at loving Him and other people well. This is not a particularly fun revelation to receive, but it was very, very good at the same time, because with it came the recognition that I am also really terrible at receiving grace, both in forgiveness and in the help that God gives us in fighting our self-centeredness and self-righteousness. And then, the understanding that it’s okay to receive grace–more than that, God really, really wants me to, because in doing so I am receiving Him, which is why He’s been after me from eternity past in the first place. Which is all to say, I want to please God, not just because I love Him, but because He has loved me to the uttermost and wants to help me to please Him.

- ^ That was utterly rambly and repetitive. Did I mention the part about my brain hurting? My body is not exactly efficient at oxygen absorption and usage (freaking lungs not working properly…), so I mostly just have the ramble lately. But you get what I mean, right? I hope so.

- Okay, so the news: If nothing else, the past few weeks have gotten us talking about mental health, power (and the abuse thereof), race and privilege, and persecution of the Middle Eastern church. We still have so far to go, so much to talk about, so much reconciliation and forgiveness and trust to be had. We cannot love one another if we don’t at least try to understand each other, and even if we come out disagreeing, we can at least hear each other’s stories and experiences and try to know one another as people, not ideas. As my brother–my Christian brother, my fellow adopted one of the Father’s children, which makes him my kindred in ways that are deeper than race and gender and even denominational lines–as my brother put it in an interview on NPR, all of this “is a human issue.” We have to care for and shepherd one another through all these things.

- Whew, that was a lot.

- And if nothing else, the last few weeks have taught me that we are frail. We are weak. And it is in our weakness that God proves His strength; it is when we are in crisis that, somehow, by grace, we learn how badly and how deeply we need Him. And it is in our desperation that we realize how much He meets that need–not just with His blessing, but with Himself, and that is what we need most. My church, or at least pockets in my church (who knows, it may be more than I know about) have been talking about revival, and asking God for it to happen, and recognizing it when it does happen. Very frequently, revival is birthed of crisis, sometimes pain, but always in a people who cry out to God for help. May it happen in our day, and in our hearts. (And by the way, I would commend to you Tim Keller’s speaking on revival: here, here, and here, and probably some other places too, if you Google “Tim Keller revival,” which sounds like the name of a terrible band.)


From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Third Wave Coffee Crashes Over America

Stumptown

A third wave of coffee connoisseurs is washing over America. Artisan coffee producers, such as Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture and Blue Bottle, have pored over their beans, roasts, and brews to steep the most awesomest coffee drink you will ever taste. Fast Company's Danielle Sacks describes the reaction some coffee evangelists received somewhere in New York.

Staffers begin wandering over to taste coffees with names like Brazil Samambaia and Three Africans. A few are coffee snobs, and for them it is a moment of vindication. A thirtysomething in a chambray shirt expresses delight at the prospect that his company might ditch the pods in the office kitchen in favor of Stumptown, which he brews at home. For others, the experience is more like an awakening, when they taste the refined brew for the first time. "I'm a coffee guy," declares a silver-haired exec in khakis. "I drink Dunkin', Starbucks, Tim Hortons--not the deli stuff," he says, echoing the sentiments of many of America's 100 million coffee drinkers. The woman from Joyride hands him something he never orders: a cup of black coffee. "It's pretty smooth," he says, surprised by how good a naked cup of coffee can taste when it's made with artisanal care. "This is really good," he confesses, taking another swig, "even without milk."
I believe I almost had a great cup of coffee like this once, but I didn't want to spend the money on it. This article says these wonderful coffee lovers want us to spend $7/drink. It may be awesome, but they aren't going to knock out K-cups at that price. (They probably wouldn't approve of my home brewing anyway.)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
DIY French Press for the Inventive Coffee Lover

What if you're stuck at a hotel around Minneapolis, and the only thing around you are Caribou Coffee joints (and you hate Caribou Coffee), and there's no way you could trudge through the driving snow to some salt-of-the-earth independent cafe for thermal mug of heavenly darkness? All you have is the hotel's nasty Mr. Drips Coffeemaker from 1978. The grounds look vintage too.

Well, Ole, you could try to this French Press concept from Josh Campbell. All you need it a coffee filter (I hear nylons will work), a wire clothes hanger (if your hotel has only plastic hangers, you could try ripping the wire liner out of your suitcase), and a glass or mug.

Of course, you still have to use the vintage coffee grounds from your cheap hotel, but if the magic of this DIY project hits you, maybe you will forget about the grounds part (until you take your first sip).

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Why Does My Coffee Taste Like Dirt?

Dark, dark coffee with filler?I believe I tasted espresso for the first time shortly after college. I bought it at Barnie's Coffee and Tea in Hamilton Place Mall, and I remember two things. First, I didn't know what a real espresso was before then. I was surprised at my drink's smallness and lack of milk-like substances. Second, it tasted as if someone had drowned a cigarette in my cup.

I loved it.

You may find a similar earthy flavor in your regular joe, if you buy one of several major brands of ground coffee, not because you oversteeped it or got espresso mixed into your light roast breakfast blend, but because it actually has dirt in it. If not the stuff of earth, then perhaps some coffee byproducts like husks, stems, or leaves.

Researchers at State University of Londrina in Brazil has developed a test for filler material in coffee grounds. "With our test, it is now possible to know with 95 percent accuracy if coffee is pure or has been tampered with, either with corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup," states Dr. Suzana Lucy Nixdorf. She and her team are concerned that Brazilian coffee shortages could inspire impure coffee grounds. She doesn't say whether someone with an allergy to one of these fillers would reject to the substances in their cup, but if Maxwell House ever looks into stretching their coffee, I hope they investigate that angle thoroughly.

I hope we aren't also at risk for finding sheep dung in our coffee, now that sensible laws, such as the U.K.'s Adulteration Of Coffee Act 1718, have been repealed. We shouldn't assume old folk remedies are wise because they are old and folk, so no dung coffee or tea for me, thank you. (via Dave Lull)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Death's Doors, Snippet 1



(As best I can figure out, we're close to releasing my next novel, Death's Doors. To whet your appetite, here's a snippet. lw)

PROLOGUE

We have no use for barns anymore, but are ashamed to tear them down. So the lofted sheds stand here and there across the land on derelict farmsteads, redundant, their backs swayed like old horses'.

The woman tossed her cigarette away. It arced like comet spit in the dark. She went into the ruined barn through a dutch door, pulling open first the upper panel, then the lower. The granulated hinges screamed and the bottom scraped an arc in the earth. She was afraid the noise would wake the baby she cradled in her left arm, but it did not. Such a good baby.

The law said she could be rid of a baby up to the age of eight weeks. She would never have let this one go except for something like this - something terribly, cosmically important.

Her flashlight showed her a low-ceilinged side-shed with animal stalls along its inside wall, its dividers and wooden posts scaly with brown flakes of ancient, petrified manure.

The old woman she'd come to see sat so still that she overshot her with the flashlight beam and had to back it up. Once fixed by the beam, the old woman smiled - a smile of radiant beauty that brought to mind a Renaissance Madonna gone wrinkled and white-haired.

"You - you're the one I was to meet?" the younger woman asked.

"I am, child. Don't shine the light in my eyes, please."

"You can give me the Key?"

"That I can."

"But you - you look so kind!"

"I would hope I am, child." The old woman's blue eyes radiated pure pity - the pity of one who has lived long, and done all things, and gained infinite understanding through experience.

"Then - then you'll accept some other price! You're too good to ask this. I can see that."

The gentle eyes held hers with empathy more than mortal. "Give me the child, Child. ʼTis the easiest way."

"No! No! You're merciful. I see that. You'll take some other price. You'll take money, or let me be your slave, or - something. You won't ask this. You can't. I know you can't."

The old woman held her hands out, smiling. "Give it over, there's a good child."

Her body racked with sobs, the woman gave her baby up. Made clumsy with weeping, she dropped her flashlight. It went out striking the concrete floor, dilating the darkness about them.

She felt something smooth and warm pressed against the palm of her hand. "Good girl," said the old woman's voice. "Here is the Key, as we promised."

She groped for her flashlight and found it. She lurched out the door, bumping her shoulder against the frame, the useless flashlight in one hand, the Key in the other.

But the world she found outside was not the one from which she'd come.

From Transforming Sermons
Truths about the advance of the Islamic State

VotM Persecution Blog has a helpful post on five truths to keep in mind as IS advances in Iraq. I like these two the best:

2. God always finds a way to encourage, grow, and build His church. He's just looking for those willing to count the cost. . . .

5. The battle is already decided.

Have you read the Book of Revelation? We know who will ultimately win the battle—the Lord Jesus Christ. Until that day, when Jesus makes His final return to take His rightful place, you can stand with your persecuted family by choosing to fellowship with them through your prayers and actions.
Amen.

From Transforming Sermons
'Broken by the process'

I don't know how to link to single entries on Dave Black's weblog, but his 8/14/14, 8:20 a.m. entry on marriage and the recent loss of his own wife is very much worth reading, even if you have to do some scrolling or searching to find it.

From Transforming Sermons
Leithart on Revelation 12

Peter Leithart gives a concise explanation of the symbolism and context of Revelation 12.

From Transforming Sermons
Contextual meaning of Genesis 1 & 2

Jim McGuiggan has a way of packing a lot of meaning into his weekly reflections. This week's essay shines light on the OT world, especially in relation to Genesis 1 & 2:

The business of the biblical witness is not to tell us about the historical, cultural, religious, political or literary climate of the day though in the process of doing what it does it reveals a lot of that.

For example, Genesis 1 & 2 sets itself against its environment in which the gods of the nations whose stories are told in the Enuma Elish or the Baal Cycle or the many myths of Sumeria and Egypt. In the Bible God as God has no mythology—he isn’t created, he doesn’t war against other gods to become the chief god nor does he die or be killed and somehow come to life again. Stories like that occur in the mythology of the polytheistic world to explain their experience with nature.
Jim's little essay is loaded with insights, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

From Transforming Sermons
Light on conflict in Gaza

Christians, it's good to be clear-eyed about what's going on in the world, especially when so many news organizations are not particularly helpful in that regard. Thanks to Mike Leake for pointing to this link: Nine Things You Should Know About Hamas.

From Transforming Sermons
Mead on preaching and paradigms

Question: Could Peter Mead's essay on preaching and paradigms possibly be good enough to sustain this powerhouse opening:

When we preach, we don’t simply present a truth, make an offer, or demonstrate the relevance of an ancient text.  Every biblical passage is a heavenly assault on the unquestioned assumptions of a fallen world.
Answer: yes. I recommend reading Peter's whole article. Plus, this week's series on who is listening is also worth reading on the Biblical Preaching home page.

From Transforming Sermons
Leithart on wine at the boundary

Peter Leithart shares some brief, beautiful thoughts on how wine in the church breaks down the archaic distinction of sacred and profane.

From Transforming Sermons
Insightful expositors: Gempf & Leithart

When I first began this weblog in 2005, I frequently linked to gems of expositional treasure at NT scholar Conrad Gempf's now-defunct weblog, Not Quite Art, Not Quite Living. From what I can tell, Dr. Gempf is no longer posting daily notes for his Bible students, but today it was good to read his thoughts this month on Mark 12:28-34.

Another scholar whose biblical insights I treasure is the extraordinarily prolific Peter Leithart. One of his latest expositional posts is on the great sword in Revelation 6:4.

From Transforming Sermons
Preaching on tech

Preacher, it's probably good to know how to preach on technology.