"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

- The Apostle's Creed
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From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Shakespeare's Dictionary?

Two booksellers are making a case for the authorship of notes in John Baret's An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, published in 1580. They hope to prove that the marginalia is Shakespeare's. They have scanned the 300-page dictionary to open it up to the world for review and possible help.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Poetry, Brutality In the News

Austin Kleon shows us how he makes his newspaper marker poems. "Creativity is subtraction," he demonstrates. I like this, but I think I lean toward more random, more crazy poetic expressions, like this dadaist poem I collected from the blogosphere of 2006.

"This bosses the suggests think Geographic
Washington dogg eu em gasolina
Companhia many book towards Down
Weman probably its USS Neverdock
To haven't you're difference am curriculum

first"

You can't beat that, I tell you.

Also found in the news, much like the marker poems, is this blowback to an NYPD twitter campaign. They asked New Yorkers to post photos of #myNYPD. Did shots of smiles and helpful cops dominate the responses? No, they got more of takedowns and wrestling.

From internetmonk.com
iMonk Classic: Icebergs, Onions and Why You’re Not As Simple As You Think

iceberg2

From April 24, 2008.

“My theology is simply what I read in the Bible.”

Sure it is.

“What I believe and practice is simply what the Bible teaches and nothing else.”

Of course. What else could be simpler?

I’m sure several of you won’t be surprised at all to learn that I meet with a pastoral counselor on a regular basis. It’s one of the best things I do. We talk about all sorts of things, and we’ve developed a very beneficial dialog around many of the the issues that are part of a Jesus shaped spirituality.

Almost every time we meet, one of us will wind up saying that human beings are far more complex than anyone realizes. And that goes double for our view of ourselves. We’d like to think that we’re quite simple in our motivations and behavior. Our self-description is almost always biased toward “what you see is what you get,” even when we are well aware that such is not the case.

Working with a counselor constantly reminds me that there is far more to what I feel, perceive, think and do than I ever recall at any moment. It’s not unusual for me to leave my counselor’s office with fresh illumination regarding memories, events and various influences that have contributed to who I am. Insights into my family of origin, primary experiences as a child, uncritical acceptance of some proclamations of reality, even manipulation and brainwashing: all of these may appear on my radar after a session with Bob, made obvious by our conversation and God’s Spirit.

What’s stunning is that all of these things were no less part of me when I walked into the office, totally unaware of their existence and influence. Where were all these things before? With me and part of me, but unknown to me.

onion-layersThink about that. It’s just as true of you.

If I ever tell you that all I do is just read the Bible, then believe and do what it says, you have permission to laugh at me. Pay a small fee and you can smack me and say “What’s the matter with you?”

I’m an iceberg, an onion, a mystery. I’m complex and rarely insightful into myself. Thousands of experiences co-exist in me at the same time. I’m a library of presuppositions and passively accepted versions of the truth. When I write a post, preach a sermon, respond in a conversation or give advice to a student, I am anything but simple. I’m complex and only partially aware of that complexity.

This doesn’t mean I can’t understand the simple statements of the Bible or believe and act on them with integrity. It does mean that I need to stop talking about myself as if I am a blank slate, and begin accepting myself as a human being.

I am a person on a journey. That journey has been rich and diverse. It began before I was born. It’s gone on when I was aware and unaware of all that was happening to me. I’ve been shaped by God through a variety of influences, and in one way, there is a sacredness to how God has chosen to shape my life. At any moment that I present myself to God, I am accepted as the “iceberg” of known and unknown influences that make me ME.

I don’t need to fear my complexity. I don’t need to ignore it or misrepresent it. There’s no point in speaking as if my understanding of truth is unaffected by all that preceded this moment and what is going on at this moment.

The Holy Spirit works with us as the human beings that we are. “Search my thoughts O God” is an invitation for God to work with me and all that makes me a person at this moment.

Is this an endorsement of some postmodern skepticism toward propositions? Is it another emerging denial of truth?

No. It’s simply an observation that I don’t “just” read the Bible and do what it says without bringing along all my personal influences and multiple layers of my personal history and experience.

There’s a reason certain ideas appeal to me, others are uninteresting to me and some never will make sense to me.

There are reasons I’ve come to the “obvious” conclusions that I have.

There are reasons I perceive some truth and can’t see other truth.

There are reasons my understanding of being a Christian falls easily towards some things and is repelled and conflicted by others.

I am complex. I have a history. I have influences. I’m not a robot. I am a person.

Knowing God’s truth is always a miracle of the Holy Spirit. I’m beginning to appreciate that more and more as I come to understand all that’s made me the person I am today.

From Transforming Sermons
Throne room treasures

At Reading Acts, Phillip J. Long's study of Revelation has entered the heavenly throne room with posts here, here, here, and here. Prof. Long has begun recycling posts from years past, but I think these may be new.

Writing supercomputer Peter J. Leithart has also begun sharing his usual insightful nuggets on Revelation 4 with posts on his First Things blog here, here, here, and here.

Rick Oster, another super-scholar and a former Greek teacher of mine, also continues to blog on Revelation at Seven Subversive Letters.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
A Meditative Video of Ceramic Masters at Work

Video: Ceramic Masters at work. This is beautiful. What marvelous work.

From internetmonk.com
Another Look: Easter Is a Season, Not a Day

road+to+emmaus

First Published April 4, 2010.

Many of us in our Christian traditions learned to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on a day — Easter Sunday.

Easter is the great Lord’s Day, the climax of Holy Week, the high point of the Christian Year, marked by an explosion of color, wafting fragrance of lilies, majestic sounds of organ and baroque trumpets, bright new clothes, formal dinner with the family. A blissful Sabbath! Our little ones receive baskets of candies and toys, hunt for Easter eggs, strap on patent leather shoes, dress up like little ladies and gentlemen. We take their pictures out in the yard framed by the early blooms of spring. Women wear hats to church, white gloves. Even the men adorn themselves in pastels. This is the one Sunday we sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” The choir resounds with joyful praise. Everyone smiles. Such a happy day!

And then it’s over.

In the non-liturgical churches I have served as a pastor, the time after Easter was one of the few lulls in the year. For families, it formed the season between spring break and May, which where I live has become one of the busiest months of the year, with spring sports in full swing, summer sports like Little League beginning, end of school and church year programs, graduations, weddings, holidays like Mother’s Day, college students returning home, outdoor projects getting into full swing, and of course, here in Indianapolis we have all “the month of May” – activities leading up to the Indy 500 race. After the Easter event, and before the month of May, we had a period of relative quiet.

As an evangelical (and an American), it seems to me that I was always taught to think in terms of events. Events can be strategized, planned, advertised and marketed, organized, staffed, set up, prayed for, executed, cleaned up after, reviewed and evaluated, and followed up. It is a typically business-like approach. A well-run event can make a big splash, leave a lasting impression, and play a crucial role in forming a group of people into a community.

However, as I have more seriously considered the practice of the liturgical year, I have been challenged to think more in terms of seasons than simply in terms of events. Seasons force us to face the “dailyness” of life rather than simply its special points.

It is like the difference between a wedding and a marriage. Or the birth of a baby and learning to care for an infant.

We love Christmas, but it is in Advent that we learn to long and pray day by day for Christ to come. And it is in Christmastide (the days following Christmas) that we take time to gaze with wonder into the face of the incarnate baby Jesus, to do as Mary did, “treasuring all these things in her heart.”

And so it is with Easter. Easter is a season, not just a day. On the Christian calendar, the period that begins on Easter Sunday is called “The Great Fifty Days,” “Pascha,” or “Eastertide.”

Writing in The Complete Library of Christian Worship V, Marjorie Proctor-Smith says,

Celebrating Easter for fifty days is a Christian practice almost as ancient as the annual observance of Easter. …The term Pentecost was first used by Christians to refer to this seven-week period as a unit: “the Pentecost,” or the fifty days. It was only later that the term was applied to the fiftieth day, at which time then the fifty days was called the Easter season.

The importance of this period for the ancient church is reflected in the language used by early writers wen speaking of it, and the practices which their comments reveal. Tertullian refers to the period, which he called the Pentecost, as a laetissimum spatium, a “most joyous space” in which it is especially fitting that baptisms take place. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, write an annual “Festal Letter” to the church in which he announced the date of Easter, which “extends its beams, with unobscured grace, to all the seven weeks of holy Pentecost.” In every letter Athanasius emphasizes the centrality of the Easter observance for Christians, speaking of the fifty days especially as a time of joy and fulfillment: “But let us now keep the feast, my beloved, not as introducing a day of suffering but of joy in Christ, in whom we are fed every day.” It was, quite simply, a “Great Sunday” which lasted for seven weeks, a week of Sundays, wherein the church celebrated on a large scale the resurrection of Christ. “All of Pentecost,” writes Basil of Caesarea, “reminds us of the resurrection which we await in the other world.”

Seeing Easter as a season rather than a day might help us grasp more fully the meaning and implications of Christ’s resurrection.

  • What a wonderful season in which to study the post-resurrection appearances! The ascension! The promise of the Spirit! The new covenant!
  • To lavishly decorate our sanctuaries and celebrate Christ’s resurrection with exuberance for seven Sundays rather than just one!
  • To have “Emmaus Road” Bible studies that show how all the Scriptures point to Jesus and his finished work.
  • To celebrate the Lord’s Supper more often with a specific focus on Christ’s promise that we will share it new with him in the coming kingdom.
  • To teach sound eschatology that grounds people in the Christian hope and the coming of the new creation.
  • To explore the “Great Commission” the risen Christ gave to us and to practice “going and telling” the Good News of our risen Savior in various ways throughout our communities.
  • To regularly celebrate baptisms and hear testimonies of those who have experienced new life in Christ.
  • To hold special meetings for prayer as the disciples did, asking for God to fill us anew with his Holy Spirit that we might become more fully and joyously engaged in his mission in the world.

Many Christians assume that Easter is commemorated on just one day. It is an event. After it is over, we move on to something else.

But this cannot be. We are Easter people! The first Sunday of Easter is the beginning, not the climax of the season.

As the disciples grew in their understanding and love for the risen Christ over the great fifty days when he arose, appeared to them, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit upon them, may we too experience Easter throughout the entire season to come!

From The Living Room
Amanda of Texas: Easter Monday

For forty days You wove in and out
Of the fabric of time and space
The needle restitching the world

What fun You must have had, what
Joy You must have taken in surprising
Your people with the fact of Your life

And You keep doing it again and again
You show up out of nowhere when
I least expect, and I am continually

Astonished by the fact of You


From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
TV Storytelling Tropes In a Periodic Table

A trope is a convention, sometimes a cliché, that may be used as a formula for a specific purpose in a story. The quest, foreshadowing, or the faithful sidekick could be considered tropes for their implementation within a story. James R. Harris has given us a periodic table of the information found on TVtroupes.org, weighting each item in kilowicks (thousands of links to the relevant page on the site). To give you a taste of this potential guard against clichés in your own stories, here are items organized under "Setting, laws, plots" with their popularity rating:

  • An Aesop 3.0
  • Serious Business 4.0
  • The Masquerade 1.7
  • Recycled IN SPACE 3.2
  • X Meets Y 2.3
  • Magic A Is Magic A 0.75
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism 1.6
  • Status Quo Is God 2.0
  • Call To Adventure 0.43
  • Redemption Quest 0.20
  • The Hero's Journey 0.28
  • Saving the World 0.38
  • They Fight Crime .58

Of course, I picked the tame category. The plot device category has fun things like "Applied Phlebotinum", an object or substance used to advance the plot. Here's a good bit of dialogue as an example:

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all-oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: (beat) Probably. But, you know, it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue: 'Thank God we created the, you know, whatever device.'
- Thank You For Smoking

(via Fast CoDesign)

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Twelve Reasons Why God Can't Get Tenure, Rebuttal

Twelve top reasons why God can't get tenure (from the Internet of Yesteryear)

  1. He's authored only one paper
  2. That paper was in Hebrew
  3. His work appeared in an obscure, unimportant publication
  4. He never references other authors
  5. Workers in the field can't replicate His results.
  6. He failed to apply to the ethics committee before starting His experiments on humans.
  7. He tried to cover an experiment's unsatisfatory results by drowning the subjects.
  8. When subjects behavior proved his theory wrong he had them removed from the sample.
  9. He hardly ever shows up for any lectures. He merely assigns His Book again and again.
  10. His office is at the top of a mountain, and He doesn't keep office hours anyway.
  11. When He learned that His first two students sought wisdom, He had them expelled.
  12. His exams consist of only ten assigments which most students fail.


Rebuttal: Why God Did Receive Tenure.
  1. The one publication was a Citation Classic.
  2. The Hebrew original was widely translated courtesy of the author.
  3. Being written before journals existed, references were hard to come by.
  4. Original treatises that found a new area often require their own monograph.
  5. Although research has been sparse since the Creation, the professor has taught a number of courses: Human anatomy 212; Ancient Middle Eastern History 101, 102; Hydrology 207; Human Development 350; seminar on Egyptology; extended field trips to the deserts between Egypt and Palestine; Politics of Theocracies 277; Military Science Special Topic: Use of Voice as a Municipal Assault Weapon; Criminology 114; guest lectures in the Vet School: Digestive Anatomy of Whales; Wisdom & Ethics 550; Special seminar: Fertilization without sperm; Winemaking 870; Healing by miracle 987; Theology 101, 102, 230, 342, 350, 466H, and 980.
  6. The substitute teacher (son) was highly committed to his work.
  7. The substitute teacher cancelled the original ten requirements.
  8. The twelve teaching assistants formed numerous discussion groups.
  9. The substitute teacher knew students names without an attendance sheet.
  10. The professor's weekly Sunday lectures by surrogate instructors are attended by 974 million students.


From internetmonk.com
Monday Monkery – Day after Easter Sunday Edition

Bad Easter 1Pastor Dan, who does our weekly iMonk Saturday Ramblings, got Holy Saturday off this past weekend so that he could focus on all the special services he was participating in. I remember those marathon occasions from when I was a pastor and I’ll be very surprised if Dan’s not sleeping in today. And tomorrow. But never fear, he will return renewed and refreshed this coming Saturday to resume rambling.

To feed our readers’ appetite for links and laughter in the meantime, today we’ll engage in a bit of Monday Monkery — post-Easter Sunday style.

We hope you all had a blessed Easter weekend, without any of the terror you can see in the eyes of the children to the right. We’ll show another of these delightful family memory pix in today’s post, but if you want to see a whole set of them in all their glory, check out 17 Nightmare-Inducing Easter Photos You Can’t Unsee. [You can find several "scary Easter sites" like this around the web. They send a chill, huh?]

Here’s a note to help you sync your calendars. You might want to plan for all the upcoming years when Easter falls on April 20, which also happens to be known as Weed Day or 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers. So Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has performed an invaluable service by writing: Here’s how many times Easter will fall on 4/20 in the next 1,000 years. As for me, I have set aside each April 20 to pray, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” These days, I’m inhaling incense at the Easter Vigil.

Zoderer eggHere’s my favorite of the master Easter eggs I missed this year — a true work of art. It pays homage to the metal sculptures of Swiss artist Beat Zoderer by layering multicolored chocolate strips around an 875-gram Brazilian dark chocolate egg. Hermé has made 15 of the eggs, which retail for $290. This is but one example of a number of artistic masterpieces created by France’s top top pâtissiers and chocolatiers. You can see them in all their glory at: The delicate and utterly mouth-watering art of world’s master Easter egg makers.

From highbrow eggs to megachurch madness: Matthew Paul Turner’s article, Can’t Fill the House On Easter? Try Handing Out Gadgets, discusses how “so many churches are going to such great creative and promotional lengths to capture our attention, setting attendance goals, adding services to their schedules, hoping that, if we’re one of the millions of Americans looking for a church to attend on Easter Sunday, we will choose their church as opposed to another church. Because for many churches, in addition to Easter being about Jesus, it’s also about getting you inside their doors.” Pop culture themes seem to be, well, popular, as churches “brand” their special seasons. One example is ACF Church in Eagle River, Alaska, who are basing their Easter services around The Walking Dead, the wildly popular zombie show. Well sure, why not?

Bad Easter 2Maybe they should just invite this guy. Or not.

“And while we’re at it [this bit of background information from Ted Olsen at CT], the Easter Bunny comes from these pagan rites of spring as well, but more from pagan Germany than pagan Britain. Eighteenth-century German settlers brought “Oschter Haws” (never knew he had a name, did you?) to America, where Pennsylvania Dutch settlers prepared nests for him in the garden or barn. On Easter Eve, the rabbit laid his colored eggs in the nests in payment. In Germany, old Oschter lays red eggs on Maundy Thursday. If anyone knows why children in an agrarian society would believe a rabbit lays eggs, please tell us or a historian near you. We’re all dying to know.”

Now this is one Easter tradition I know my boys and I would have enjoyed when they were growing up. On the Greek island of Chios rival parishes mark the evening before Orthodox Easter by firing thousands of rockets at each other’s churches, trying to ring the other congregation’s church bell. No kidding, this is a blast to watch! According the BBC, they spend months making the rockets by hand. Then comes the celebration, known as “rouketopolemos”, when parishioners from Aghios Markos and Panagia Ereithiani fire the handmade fireworks at the other’s church bell towers. The winning village is the one which scores the most direct hits on the other’s church. You can watch a brief BBC News report of the battle here, or this extended YouTube video. Megachurches ain’t got nothin’.

And oh that Luther, always finding new ways for Christians to have fun. According to Lizette Larson-Miller, a Loyola Marymount University theology professor who specializes in the history of religious practices, “Some believe Martin Luther was the first to suggest that the men in the household hide eggs in their gardens–representing the garden of Christ’s tomb–for their wives and children to find.” Wait — the wives got to hunt eggs too?

Finally, Pastor Dan can rest easy knowing the plastic eggs his church will drop by helicopter for their annual Easter egg hunt won’t break on impact. Apparently, creating “indestructible” Easter eggs for helicopter drops is a growing and competitive market. Only in America.

But that’s not the only problem with helicopter drops. Better plan for that crowd, Dan, or you might have to issue an apology like the city of Dunedin, Florida did last year…

 

From home is behind, the world ahead
Easter Poem

On the eve of Easter weekend
Celebrating the greatest day in history
The day where the Son of God,
Who found it pleasing to walk this very earth,
Would face a tragic death on a cross
I doubted His love, His goodness toward me.
I asked every "why" question there is.
I actually believed He was cruel.
He was unfair.
He was distant.

But in His kindness, He turned me to the cross.
The greatest expression of love,
The greatest gift of goodness.
Grace and Mercy still nailed to the cross
where Perfection suffered so many years ago.

It's so easy for me to get caught up in my own world
To say "Poor Bethany, how sad is she."
My problems become so big in my mind
But Jesus turned my eyes.
He turned my heart.
He reminded me that on that cross He defeated it all.
He defeated my shame.
He defeated my sin.
And in dying He promised me life.
Life Abundant.

How could I doubt?
How could I question for one second His love for me?
How could I believe that He doesn't have good for me?
Why do I look at the temporary pain?
Why do I give it so much weight?
Jesus, you are enough.
I have repeated this so many times.
When will I believe it?
You are enough.

I wasn't sure if I would ever get out of this pit.
The pit of my own sin and destruction.
I felt like I was only digging a deeper hole for myself.
But then here comes Easter Sunday.
And we would sing "O Death, where is your sting?"
The Resurrected King said you were defeated and defeated you shall be.

And Jesus reminded me that
the hand that was nailed to the cross
is the very hand that reaches into my pit and pulls me out.
He says "You are not stuck.
You can move forward."

God's goodness can always find a way to break through
My apathy
My boredom
My numbness
My fear
My weakness
And can awaken me to love and to truth.

I cannot nullify the cross or the grave
By believing the lie
that death and sin are still alive
and still hold power over me.
The Resurrected King said they were defeated
and defeated they shall be.

And so I walk on solid ground.
And so a new dawn comes.

I find grace to make me new.
I find strength to get me through.
I find joy for all my days.
I find love.
I find Jesus.
And he is more than enough.

I will overcome because
He has overcome.
Thank you for the cross.
Thank you for the grave.
Thank you for your life.
Thank you for your Spirit.
Thank you that you are coming again.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

A most happy and blessed Easter to you all.

From Gospel Driven Church
The Proper Response to Easter

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” – Matthew 28:8

“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” – Mark 16:18

“But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” – Luke 24:12

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?’” – Luke 24:32

“Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” – John 20:8

“Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” – John 20:28

The proper response to Easter is not warm fuzzies, but awe.

From The Wilsonian Institute
Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!

Hallelujah, the tomb is empty! I hope that if you're reading this, you're able to celebrate your risen Savior today. If you cannot, I pray you would turn to Him in faith.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."


Romans 10:8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."





"The power that raised Him from the grave now works in us to powerfully save! He frees our hearts to live His grace; Go tell of His goodness!"

Happy Resurrection Day!

From internetmonk.com
Thomas Merton: Living in the Freedom of Easter

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These words from Trappist monk Thomas Merton about Easter could not have been said better by any Lutheran or Protestant. He reminds us that Easter is not just about Jesus rising from the dead, defeating death. It is about our death and resurrection as well. In particular, Merton has us meditate on Paul’s teaching that we have died to the Law and are now free to live as saved persons in newness of life by the Spirit.

I encourage you to read the entire chapter in Thomas Merton’s book on the liturgical year: Seasons of Celebration.

Have a blessed Easter!

13861655103_50a90e9630_zLent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential “dread” of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?

But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

- Seasons of Celebration
Merton, Thomas

From The Living Room
Lazarus of Bethany: Holy Saturday

I have waited once
For the coming quickening light
I can wait again


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: April 19, 2014

““Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity……we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.” ” ~A.E. Newton

SatReviewbutton

Welcome 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 internetmonk.com
Why We Need Holy Saturday

manteg16

The Dead Christ, Mantegna

Note: In honor of Holy Saturday, we will not have an edition of Saturday Ramblings today. We will have a “links” post early in the week to come.

* * *

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…

- 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

One of the richest books of theology I have read in recent years is Alan E. Lewis’s meditation on Holy Saturday called, Between Cross and Resurrection. I know I shall be returning to it again and again, so fulsome is the consideration of its subject, and so profoundly challenging it is to the shallow ways I contemplate the mystery of Christ’s sufferings and exaltation.

Lewis recognizes the slender amount of material that the Bible devotes to the time between Good Friday and Easter. He observes that John’s Gospel, in particular, anticipates the victory of the resurrection even while Jesus is yet on the cross, rendering his final words, “It is finished!” — a victory cry. However, Lewis also recognizes that John’s Upper Room Discourse (chapters 13-17), which comes before the story of the cross, anticipates the desolation the disciples would feel after Jesus’ death and before they saw him again. Generally speaking, in the chronological narratives of the Gospels it is primarily the later inclusion of chapter divisions that gives us a chance to pause between the accounts of Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

Nevertheless, in summarizing the gospel story, Paul explicitly includes Jesus’ burial followed by his resurrection on the “third day” (1Cor. 15 – see above). The Creeds, succinct as they are, also emphasize this detail as well as the intriguing fact of his “descent to hell.” In the Westminster Shorter Catechism we read of Jesus “being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” Thus has the Church traditionally held that a faithful telling of the Jesus story must include the fact that he lay in the grave, dead, between the cross and resurrection. As Lewis says,

Here, we are told, we must stop and ponder, must absorb the brutal facts, let the realization sink slowly in that Christ’s life is finished and done, that he has drunk the cup of mortality to its last, most hellish drop.

The author notes that a failure to make a proper, sustained pause between Good Friday and Easter threatens our full appreciation of both Jesus’ death and and his resurrection. Moving too quickly from the cross to the empty tomb, we fail to grasp the depths of Jesus’ suffering; what it means that God suffered and died that day. Nor can we know the wonder, power, and hope of “He is risen!” unless we feel the full weight of God lying lifeless in the grave during an interval of utter despair when no such hope was even conceivable.

For this reason I will be attending Easter Vigil tonight. Having witnessed the stripping of the altar on Thursday, and having descended into darkness with the congregation in Good Friday’s Tenebrae service, on Saturday we gather in the chill of the evening air around a fire as the sun sets. The liturgy includes words like this: “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

We then proceed together into a dark sanctuary following a new Paschal Candle. As the service goes on, we light more and more candles and the light grows. Wonderful texts from the Bible are read, reciting the great salvific acts of God. We renew our baptismal vows and celebrate with those coming to be baptized. Darkness turns to light. Buried with Christ in baptism, we rise to walk with him in newness of life.

This is the pinnacle of the Church Year. The light of Easter shines much brighter for me now that I explicitly acknowledge the darkness of Holy Saturday.

We wrap up with a quote from Lewis:

Lewis BookIn summary, the complex, multiple meaning of the story will only emerge as we hold in tension what the cross says on its own, what the resurrection says on its own, and what each of them says when interpreted in the light of the other. It would not be impossible to graph the entire history of church doctrine and life by plotting the interpretations which have failed to give due weight to one or the other of these essentials in the story by which and for which the Christian community lives. We might discover that the second day, which serves both to keep the first and the third days apart in their separate identities and to unite them in their indivisibility, offers a useful stance from which to make one more effort at a properly multivocal, stereophonic hearing of the gospel story.

- Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday
Alan E. Lewis

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Important publishing news that will change your life!



The good folks at Nordskog Publishing have made my novel West Oversea available in e-book format now.

Your Kindle version is here.

Your Nook version is here.

Happy Easter.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Just Stop It, Writers

Barnabas Piper tells us to stop writing about writing, because we don't really have anything to say.

"When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it's uppity."

Yeah. Sorry about that.

From The Living Room
Martha of Bethany: Good Friday

It’s not Sabbath yet
(although the sun is swiftly setting today)
so I am making the bread
and sweeping the floor
and washing the windows
and trying to get dinner together
even though I am not hungry today
none of us are hungry today

I am doing the thing he told me
not to do: but today I want
to do everything I can
to ignore the news that came down
the road from the city
because otherwise everything will unravel
like the tears in our garments

So I keep brushing past the blood
on the doorposts
I keep not looking up at the darkening sky
because as long as I keep moving I can still believe


From Semicolon
K is for Kyrielle

“[P]oetry can do something that philosophy cannot, for poetry is arbitrary and has already turned the formulae of belief into an operation of faith.” ~Charles Williams

kyrielle: derives from the Kýrie, which is part of many Christian liturgies. A kyrielle is written in rhyming couplets or quatrains. It may use the phrase “Lord, have mercy”, or a variant on it, as a refrain as the second line of the couplet or last line of the quatrain. In less strict usage, other phrases, and sometimes single words, are used as the refrain. Each line within the poem consists of only eight syllables.

This poetic form, with its repetition of the “kyrie”, seems appropriate for this Good Friday when we remember the Lord Jesus in his suffering and death.

'Crucifixion by Mia Tavonatti' photo (c) 2011, Rachel Kramer - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/A Lenten Hymn by Thomas Campion

With broken heart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry:
Thy pard’ning grace is rich and free:
O God, be merciful to me.

I smite upon my troubled breast,
With deep and conscious guilt oppress,
Christ and His cross my only plea:
O God, be merciful to me.

Far off I stand with tearful eyes,
Nor dare uplift them to the skies;
But Thou dost all my anguish see:
O God, be merciful to me.

Nor alms, nor deeds that I have done,
Can for a single sin atone;
To Calvary alone I flee:
O God, be merciful to me.

And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me.

Robyn Hood Black is hosting Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge on this Good Friday.

From internetmonk.com
Why the Change in the Crowd?

Palm Sunday Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:8-9

22″What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23″Why? Whatcrime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Matthew 27:22-23

(Originally posted May, 2008)

What a difference a week makes! In one week, the people have gone from shouting “Hosanna” to shouting “Crucify him!” Unfortunately, in almost every sermon I have heard on the topic, the pastor gets it wrong. (Not picking on any particular pastor here, I have heard this preached badly six or seven times.) The Pastor assumes that the crowd in Matthew 21 is the same as the crowd in Matthew 27. But this is not the case.

In Matthew 19 we find Jesus way north of Jerusalem, in Galilee, his home turf so to speak. This was where Jesus had grown up, based his ministry, and performed most of his miracles. Like most others he starts to make his way south to celebrate the passover in Jerusalem.

First he heads down to Judea, to the far side of the Jordan (possibly on the route that skirted Samaria.) He crosses back over the Jordan into Jericho, which we find him leaving in Matthew 20. He arrives at Bethpage and Bethany which he makes as his headquarters for Passover week (Matthew 21 & 26). Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims, and Jesus did what many others did who lived outside the immediate area, they slept in the towns surrounding Jerusalem, and then came into Jerusalem for the events of each day.

So when Jesus has his triumphal entry that we read about in Matthew 21, he is surrounded by his supporters from the north. They had also camped outside the city and were also coming in for the day.

In Jerusalem awaits the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who are quite happy with their lifestyle and the degree of autonomy that they have under Roman rule. Someone who might upset their applecart would need to be dealt with quickly.

So what does Jesus do? He drives the money changers and sellers from the temple, directly challenging the leadership of the temple. Then he heads back to Bethany for the night.

He comes back in the next morning, curses the fig tree on the way in, and then spends the day telling parables that insult the chief priests and pharisees. It is then that they decide to arrest him (Matthew 21:45-46). Note that the passage says that they were afraid to arrest him because of the crowd.

Christ continues to clash with the teachers of the law and the pharisees in Mattew 22 & 23. Jesus continues to teach in Matthew 24 & 25 and heads back to Bethany where we find him again in Mattew 26.

Meanwhilethe chief priests and elders meet to plot against Jesus.

3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of

the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4and they plotted to arrest Jesus in

some sly way and kill him. 5″But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may

be a riot among the people.” Matthew 26: 3-5

Notice that the plot involved getting Jesus away from his followers. That is the ones who camped outside the city.

Jesus comes back into town to pray on the Mount of Olives at night. It is at the Garden of Gethsemene that he is arrested at night (Matthew 26:47). Jesus himself comments (verse 55) that he was in the temple all day, why didn’t they arrest him then? Why, because his supporters were all in the temple area during the day!

He is immediately taken before the sanhedrin for his first trial. Again, this was still in the middle of the night, and the sanhedrin had gathered for the express purpose of getting rid of Jesus.

Matthew 27 opens by saying that “early in the morning” he was taken before Pilate. It is when he is before Pilate that the crowd shouts “crucify him”.

This is not the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna”. The “Hosanna” crowd are still camped outside the city or making their way in. The “Crucify crowd” is made up of the priests, elders, and pharisees, and those that they have assembled, who wanted nothing to do with Jesus and just want him out of the way.

So why the change in the crowd? Two different crowds. The second crowd planted at a time when the first crowd could not be there.

So why does this matter?

What struck me about this story is that the chief priests, temple leaders, and pharisees represented what society would have considered to be among the most spiritual people in society. Yet these people were the ones that were most threatened by the new wave of the Spirit that had come in the form of Jesus Christ. It is a natural inclination to be suspicious of change, to be resistant to ideas that might threaten your place in society, and to be wary of a new religious movement.

Then I thought of us today in our churches. Are we suspicious, resistant, and wary of new things. Do we like things just the way they are? “If it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.” Over the last couple of years I have heard a couple of astute church leaders suggest that if the congregation is quite happy with the status quo, then some faith stretching exercises are in order. What happens when a new Pastor comes into our church (I am speaking generically here) and suggests that significant change is necessary in order for the church to move beyond its plateaued state? Are we part of the crowd that shouts “Hosanna!”, or are we part of the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”

That is not to say that resistance to change is necessarily wrong.  I do think however it is important for us to examine ourselves, and make sure we are responding with the right motivations.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

From such small hands
Truly Amazing

These days, a quick scan of Facebook, Pinterest or TV shows might convince you that the world is full of amazing things. Maybe some of those things really deserve to be called “amazing,” but most of them are not. They...

From The Living Room
Mary of Bethany: Maundy Thursday

All the women came back to our house,

So it’s just us. And our brother, laying low after

A month of miracles, and a few hangers-on:

All of us healed in some way, recipients of

Some gift. And we are chopping up the herbs,

Baking the bread. The men came back from the

Temple with the lamb and poured its blood on our house,

And now we eat.

 

But the twelve? And the Lord? In Jerusalem, and all I want–

Though I am grateful for this company, this family stitched together

Around my tired heart to keep it warm–all I want

Is to run into town and fall at His feet again, still scented

With last week’s perfume, and listen.

I fear that tonight, after a month of miracles,

The miracles may end for good.

 


From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality

Matthew Vines is not a new author. He has been around for a few years, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. He has a new book coming out next week making the same arguments, but the bigger news may be who is publishing it. It's Stephen W. Cobb, the chief executive of both WaterBrook Multnomah and the new imprint Convergent.

Cobb says the two imprints do not have the same audiences and editorial guidelines, so they aren't the identical, but he does call the final shots for both. With Convergent, those shots are "nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith," such as Matthew Vines' new book, God and the Gay Christian.

World Magazine makes a big deal about these imprints being unified under one corporate umbrella, but what strikes me as odd is Cobb's insistence that he isn't publishing heresy under the Convergent label. He claims Vines' "believes in the inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture," so his book is "biblically based." He says he intends to publish only biblically based books through Convergent.

How orthodox does a "biblically based" book need to be in order to remain based on the Bible? The Book of Mormon and the Koran are literally based on the Bible, but would we call them "biblically based"? If this is the main criteria, then I would understand a wide variety of views being published, but we expect more, don't we?

How much orthodox stock do you put into this publisher or any publisher? Do you notice the publisher of a book and believe the topic, whatever it is, has been thoroughly vetted? Do you believe WaterBrook is still committed to "creating products that both intensify and satisfy the elemental thirst for a deeper relationship with God," as their marketing people say?

From internetmonk.com
Holy Thursday at the Tea Party

mad_hatter_teapartySometimes, I’ve got nothing.

Nothing to write about. No insightful words to impart. No interesting metaphors to spark the imagination. No provocative prose, no poetry to prime the pump. I’m sitting and trying to think, but everything is fuzzy, my mind full of inchoate thoughts, like bats fluttering around in an attic.

I get the sense that these are auspicious days, that we have important things to talk about, that if we don’t we might miss the moment and the parade will have passed us by. But I’m blank, bleary, and “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore” (Paul Simon).

I’m like the disciples on Thursday evening.

There I am, in the upper room — right there mind you — but I haven’t a clue about what’s going on.

Jesus is washing our feet (what?) and Peter is complaining (of course!).

We recline around the table and though the tension is palpable, no one can seem to put a finger on it.

Between bites Jesus is saying something about going away.

There are whispered conversations between him and individual disciples.

Every now and then I suspect covert signals are being passed, but I’m apparently outside the loop.

John leans over and whispers to the Master.

Judas leaves the room.

I keep hearing mysterious words and combinations of words, like body and bread, paracletes and orphans, branches and vines, wine and blood, joy and tribulation, judgment and the ruler of this world — what in the world is Jesus talking about?

To see him is to see the Father?

To be hated by the world is to be loved by the Father?

For Jesus to go away is better than to have him with us?

I’m in over my head and feel as clueless as Alice at a tea party.

Alice_in_Wonderland_by_Arthur_Rackham_-_08_-_A_Mad_Tea-PartyThe Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he SAID was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

`It IS the same thing with you,’ said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.

I suppose it will all make sense eventually.

I suppose I’ll find words to articulate this fog.

Maybe tomorrow, on Friday, things will be clearer.

From Semicolon
J is Just for Fun

“I shake the poems like doormats. Phrases tumble. Some are swept past the margins and stay there. A few find places in other poems. Some spots need a bit more mystery, and I nudge them around corners, away from the bright light, to let shadows do their work.” ~Jeannine Atkins

Ogden Nash is one of my favorite poets. I have a theory that making us laugh at ourselves and at the world we live in is one of the important functions of poetry. Mr. Nash certainly makes the laughter and the fun of poetry evident.

For instance, there’s this poem in which Mr. Nash volunteers his definition of marriage: humorous, insightful, and eminently debatable.

For pure fun, Custard has always been one of my favorites.

And here I posted about Mr. Nash’s poem, Very Like a Whale, in which he makes fun of Byron’s similes.

Now, here’s another Ogden Nash poem, just for fun during Poetry Month:

Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man by Ogden Nash

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission
and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from
Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as,
in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about the sins of commission because
however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be
committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you really get painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the checks you haven’t added up
the stubs of and the appointments you haven’t kept and the bills you
haven’t paid and the letters you haven’t written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn’t get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let’s all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round
of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn’t do give you a lot more trouble than the
unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of
sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. ~Martin Luther

From internetmonk.com
Church: Not Where We “Find God”

BrightAbyssGeoffrey Hill:

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love?
What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?

- from “Lachrimae Amantis”

Religiously secure. A brilliant phrase, and not simply because it suggests the radical lack of security, the disruption of ordinary life that a turn toward Christ entails, but also this: for some people, and probably for all people for some of the time, religion, church, the whole essential but secondary edifice that has grown out of primary spiritual experience — all this is the last place in the world where they are going to find God, who is calling for them in the everyday voices of other people, other sufferings and celebrations, or simply in the cellular soul of what is…

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
- Christian Wiman

* * *

One great misconception about the Church is that is to be the place where people go to “find God.” It is natural to think this way in a consumer society, where it seems you can always go somewhere to find what you’re looking for. The Church is the place to go to find God.

Except — everything in the Bible protests against that notion. For God is Creator of the world, the Giver and Sustainer of life. In him we live and move and have our being, and he is not far from any of us. The idea that there are particular places where we go to access God, specific places where God “lives,” waiting for us to come and find him, is the essence of idolatry not genuine faith.

For spiritual seekers, churches and faith communities function (or should function) more like signposts, pointing their neighbors to the God who made them, who knows them, who is at work already in their lives, and who loves the ordinariness of their daily worlds every bit as much as he delights to hear praises in the sanctuary.

For people of faith, who have found a home in the Church, this means learning to view our gatherings as only a small part of the story. For God is with us, close to us, speaking and working as much when we scatter into our communities to work and play as he is when we come together. We do not “leave the world” to “come into God’s presence.” I am not denying that there is something special about how God meets his people in worship, especially in the Word and Sacraments, but I am protesting the common assumption that our services are somehow more “sacred” than our daily lives.

Unfortunately, local churches try to make hay on this bad theology all the time. In fact, they go further than calling people to “the Church” to find God. They then identify what is happening in their particular congregations and church programs with God’s presence and activity. That in turn unleashes the tendency to compare and compete with other churches, and the message easily becomes: God is here in a way that he is not in other congregations. Come here = find God. Go there = be disappointed (and risk your soul!)

All of which guarantees that Christian Wiman’s words will be verified. Church is the last place in the world where many people are going to find God.

Before you jump all over me (or Wiman) for promoting a kind of spirituality without religion and encouraging people to abandon the Church for a fuzzy, undefined “personal faith,” please know that Wiman dismisses that notion as a “modern muddle of gauzy ontologies and piecemeal belief.” He commends definite beliefs and practices as necessary, steady spots from which we may glimpse the truth, give some form to the mysteries of life and faith, and withstand the sufferings that threaten to uproot us. I agree, but religious practices, such as involvement in a church, are meant to enrich our lives, not take over our lives.

My big point is simply this: we don’t really find God anywhere but in life itself. Real life. Daily life. Not just “church life.”

If any church tries to tell you God is present in some special way among them and you need to go there to find him, smile politely but shake the dust off your feet. Hard.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
'Murder by Moonlight,' by Vincent Zandri



Vincent Zandri is producing a series of novels about Albany, NY private eye Dick Moonlight (I'm not kidding. That's his name). Murder by Moonlight was the first I've read, and although I read it through and enjoyed it a fair amount, I find I didn't really like it much.

Dick Moonlight is a private eye with a difference (aren't they all nowadays?). He attempted suicide a couple years back, leaving himself with a .22 bullet in his brain which the doctors can't remove. At any moment it might shift and kill him, so he lives with that.

In Murder by Moonlight, he is hired by Joan Parker, who was horribly injured in an ax attack in her home, one which killed her husband. At the time she told the police that her son Christopher was to blame, but now she's changed her mind and wants Moonlight to prove the young man innocent.

A number of things irritated me in this book. One is the present-tense narration, which doesn't actually spoil the story, but which I find an irritating affectation that adds nothing.

Secondly, the story wanders into the realm of ancient conspiracies, which I don't believe in. People aren't that good at keeping secrets, especially in large groups.

But most importantly, the hero/narrator, Dick Moonlight, got on my nerves. Many people in the story tell him he's a jerk (they generally use more colorful language), and they're right. He claims he has a built-in lie detector (again, he uses an earthier term), and feels that gives him the right to be insulting to anyone he doesn't like on first sight -- even when he needs a favor from them. That's just bad detective procedure. What he is, is judgmental and tactless.

So though the story kept my interest (in spite of some weak writing moments and needless complications at the end), I don't recommend it highly. On the other hand, it'll keep your interest on a plane, if that's what your needs are.

Cautions for language and adult themes.

From Semicolon
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The subject of Africa and Africans and the relationship of Africans to Americans is one of my fascinations. I read Ms. Adichie’s novel, Americanah, with that fascination firmly in place. But the book was just ironic, sarcastic, and insightful enough to make me a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d enjoy meeting the author, and I don’t think she would like me very much. (According to one character in the novel who may or may not speak for the author, “American conservatives come from an entirely different planet,” obviously not a good one.) I feel as if Ms. Adichie, assuming her characters speak for her in some respects, would have something sardonic and probably also uncomfortably perceptive to say about me and my interest in Africa and my WASP background and my conservative Christian worldview.

Through her main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, especially Ifemelu, the novelist has a lot to say about Nigerians and “Non-American Blacks” (NAB’s) and American Blacks (AB’s) and American Non-Blacks and Brits and other Europeans and poor people and rich people and bourgeois middle class people and everyone else whose weaknesses and foibles Ifemelu manages to expose and ridicule and deflate. Thought provoking, yes. But Ifemelu is also self-absorbed, sometimes pitiable, and irresponsible and unreliable. In short, she’s a real person with a sin problem, although she wouldn’t use that term.

Ifemelu is a Nigerian immigrant to the United States. She leaves Nigeria partly to escape from the lack of choices there and from her dysfunctional family and partly to study in the U.S., the land of opportunity. She finds that when she comes to America, she suddenly becomes “black”, a category she never considered one way or another back in Nigeria. She is subject to the racism, overt and subtle, that American Blacks encounter and deal with all of the time in this country. And she also becomes “African” in the eyes of many Americans, black and white, who tell her about their charitable contributions to an orphanage in Zimbabwe or their trip to Kenya or their love for Mother Africa, as if Africa were one big country, and of course, she would identify with people and entities half a continent away from her own nation and culture.

Ifemelu, however, is an honest and incisive thinker, and she forges her own identity in the U.S. She eventually becomes a blogger with a widely read and profitable blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. She writes about race in America, about black women and hair, about subtle and not-so subtle racism, about Michelle and Barack Obama, about her own experiences as an immigrant to the U.S., and about the people and interactions she observes. Her blog posts about race in particular prick the consciences and destroy the pretensions of many of her readers. (The unrealistic part, of course, is that she makes quite a bit of money as a result of the popularity of her blog. How many rich bloggers are there?)

Americanah is a smart, penetrating, rather dramatic look at the immigrant experience and at the emigrant experience and at the experience of returning home. But it made me feel the way I feel when I’m in the company of intellectual people who spend their time mocking and pointing out the defects of those who are “beneath” them, outside their little clique. Americanah is an opinionated book, and it’s not a kind book. The characters in the book are honest, possibly right about many of their opinions and insights, but not very compassionate or forgiving.

“What are you reading?” Kelsey turned to Ifemelu.
Ifemelu showed her the cover of the novel. She did not want to start a conversation. Especially not with Kelsey. She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.
“Is it good?”
“Yes.”
“It’s a novel, right? What’s it about?”
Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing. Ifemelu disliked the question; She would have disliked it even if she did not feel, in addition to her depressed uncertainty, the beginning of a headache.

At the risk of being relegated to the realm of all the Kelseys of this country, despite my lack of “liberal” credentials, I will say that Americanah is about the Nigerian immigrant experience, both in the U.S. and Britain. It’s also about the issues and stresses of being a black woman in America, specifically in the Northeastern part of the U.S. And it’s a novel about romantic love, and lost love and recovered love. The ending, like the detail of the money-making blog, struck me as unrealistic and unlikely. But I did learn a lot along the way.

Warning: Self-absorption and sexual license abound in the novel, just as they do in the real lives of many, both Africans and Americans. That part of the novel is almost too realistic.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Yes, Even When He Is Silent



Here we have the St. Olaf Choir with Conductor Anton Armstrong performing "Even When He Is Silent" by Kim André Arnesen. It was recorded at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway on June 16, 2013

The piece was commissioned by the St. Olaf Festival in Trondheim, Norway (Olavsfestdagene), using a text was found in a concentration camp after World War II:

"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent."

But, Lord, do not be silent or allow us to be deaf.

From internetmonk.com
Randy Thompson: The Church as a Hospice for the Dying

Extreme Unction (detail), Poussin

Extreme Unction (detail), Poussin

The Church as a Hospice for the Dying
by Rev. Randy Thompson
Forest Haven, Bradford, NH

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I recently read an interesting article over at Christianity Today’s Parse blog on why the popular metaphor of the Church as a hospital for the sick is wrong headed, despite the popularity of that concept and its antiquity. The article was thought provoking, but for me at least, the thoughts it provoked had nothing to do with the article’s point. I’m inclined to agree with the author about the church not being like a hospital for the sick, but for reasons completely unrelated to his argument.

It seems to me that it’s better to think of the Church as a hospice, rather than as a hospital. The purpose of a hospital is to help people get better. Too often, that’s exactly what many churches strive to do. They provide self-help treatments, complete with psychological anesthetics to numb the pain, dressed up in Biblical language. I’m normally dubious about people whose job description is “The Bible Answer Man,” but Hank Hanegraaf recently coined a wonderful word that captures what I’m talking about, “Osteenification,” which is a state of ecclesiastical affairs where God is stumbling all over Himself so we, His creatures, can grab all the gusto we can. In other words,  faith boils down to thinking happy thoughts, which, in turn, unleash the power of the universe, or, at least, make you rich and happy.  An old trite song sums it up pretty well:

So let the sunshine in face it with a grin,
smilers never lose and frowners never win

My point is, the aim here is to help people get better–better at living the good life as this world defines it, to become better people as this world defines it.  This is the modern version of the church-as-hospital.

I think a more Gospel-based view is that the Church is a hospice–a place where people go to die.

If you stop and think about it for a minute, this makes sense. The people who are most serious about church should be serious about death, too. They’re there in church every week because they know they’re going to die, and they wonder, “Then what?”  It’s that “then what?” question that keeps them in place every Sunday. As that wonderful man, Samuel Johnson, put it, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

But the Church is like a hospice for another, better reason. There is only one reason why you are admitted to hospice care: you’re going to die, and nothing can be done about it. If you will, the price of admission is death. So it is with the rite of admission into the Body of Christ. In baptism, we die to self. We recognize that our sin-sickness is terminal. We arrive at the baptismal font as though at death’s door, which is exactly what baptism is supposed to be.

This isn’t all gloom and doom, of course, for the One with whom we die in baptism is the One who was raised from the dead.  As Paul said to the Romans, and to us too, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). We like the resurrection part, but we tend to want to avoid the death part of what Paul describes here. But, we need to take seriously that the door to resurrection is death, and the way to Easter is Good Friday.

But wait, as any good infomercial advises, there’s more. The whole point of being in a hospice is to die. You’re not there because you’re going to get better; your life is over, and you’re waiting for the end. Isn’t that the whole Christian life in a nutshell? Isn’t this life lived between the “now” and the “not yet”? The whole point of being part of a church is to die a bit more every Sunday. “I am crucified with Christ,” Paul tells us (Galatians 2:20). If we “have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).  For Christ’s sake, Paul says,  “I suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8b, 10).  And why do we die every Sunday? Because the more we die, the more Christ lives in us. The more we die, the more we experience the life on the other side of death, the resurrection life of Jesus. Good Friday is where we’re given the eyes to see the glory of Easter, which, for now, is our window to God’s eternity.

The Church as hospice makes good, Gospel sense. And, there are very practical implications in this metaphor as well. When people tell the pastor that they are leaving the church because their “needs” aren’t being met, all the pastor has to do is remind them of what the Church is, and point out that their “needs” are indeed being met: They’re being given an opportunity to die to their “needs” in order to experience more of the resurrection life of Christ. So, the church really is meeting their needs; they just don’t know it.

Also, commitment and membership are understood differently in a church which sees itself as a hospice.  Most churches survive because a small minority of hyperactive members keep the church’s ministries and committees going. The rest of the membership has too much to live for to get involved. You get a clear glimpse of this when you watch church families heading off to their kids’ sporting events  Sunday mornings rather than to church. If there’s a conflict between sports and Church, guess which one wins in most cases? But, when the Church is a hospice, things are different.  In Samuel Johnson’s words,

He that considers how soon he must close his life will find nothing of so much importance as to close it well; and will, therefore, look with indifference upon whatever is useless to that purpose.

In a hospice, the dying make time and have time to think about the Big God Questions. Youth sports and weekend ski vacations seem trivial and irrelevant in comparison. When you’re dying, you see things differently, and more deeply. In a church of dying people, they “look with indifference” at  trivia. They don’t go wandering off into Vanity Fair. They tend to stay put, which is another way of talking about “abiding” in Christ (See John 15:1-11).

And, then there’s the matter of spirituality. People who have many things to live for and be distracted by find that all these things have nibbled away at their life, and what’s left is a puzzle with pieces missing. What happened to my life? Where did it go? What did it mean? People in hospice care live moment by moment, for that’s all they have.  There are few distractions for the dying. But, as any spiritual guide will tell you, the only place where you can really encounter God and where you can deeply, personally know Him, is in the present moment–right here, right now.

The dying have a capacity to appreciate the present moment, and value it. Since they don’t know how many more moments they may have, they enjoy and enter into each one as best they can.  Each moment is a gift, each one a grace from God. Often, hospice patients, living fully in the present moment, unsure of how many more moments they have, are more alive than the rest of us, who live like we’re immortal. Christians who are the most “dead” are like this. When you meet them, you vicariously enter into a Presence that is both beyond them and greater than them, a Living Presence that is not somewhere in the unknown future nor a memory of past glories but which meets you now.

Finally, dying people treat other people differently than the so-called living people do.  When you spend time with the dying, it’s as though no one else on the planet exists except you. The dying have an astounding capacity to listen and pay attention to their guests. Although they may not be able to offer conventional hospitality, they offer a deeper hospitality, a hospitality of the heart. They’re not interested in talking about world issues or politics or religious theories. They’re interested in you; their focus is you. Often, meeting them is to come away with a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant by the “meek,” when he said,  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  It is the meek who are uninterested in power, influence and control over others. It is the meek who make room for others in their hearts, who do not see other people as obstacles to be overcome, as ciphers to be manipulated, or as bores to be ignored.

This hospice metaphor gives new meaning to the phrase “dying church.” It may well be that there are as many dying churches as there are because they never were dead enough to begin with. It may be that many “exciting” and growing churches look alive, but their life may well be only the twitches and convulsions of a sickness unto death. In pop culture, when someone or something is supposed to be dead but isn’t, you have what’s called “The Undead.”  Zombies, in other words. To refuse to take dying with Christ seriously is to end up Undead. And, instead of being neighbors and salt and light to the world, we end up like the walking dead, seeking converts among people who are doing their best to avoid us.

From Book Reviews, Creative Culture - Brandywine Books
Swedish Book Review

"Hype is an overrated and overused tool, but the power of compelling narrative endures, hence the sprouting of new Swedish literary agencies with names like Partners in Stories and Storytellers. They have an eye to lucrative film rights, of course, but few would deny the seductiveness of a good plot."

The Swedish Book Review is out with several takes on books you may want to watch for. (via The Literary Saloon, the place to go for translated fiction.)

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
I love you this much….

“When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much.

The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross which we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us.”

~Sinclair Ferguson

From Transforming Sermons
Liked by God

I've always believed it's possible to love someone and not particularly like them. As a teenager, for example, I always loved my parents, but sometimes I didn't really like them. Looking back at my behavior in those days, I'm confident those sentiments were at times mutual.

As Christians, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. And we're especially called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But in both cases we aren't commanded to like them. In practice, that means we desire the best for those we love and sometimes work actively, at our own expense, to help bring about that good for them. And certainly it means being kind, whether we like someone or not. But it doesn't mean we have to enjoy their company or desire to hang out with them. In short, loving is a choice, but liking is a preference. The former has a strong, intrinsically moral element, while the latter is primarily a matter of taste.

All of which is merely an intro to what this post is really about: I want God to like me.

I know God loves me. That truth, in fact, may be the central motivating power of my soul's existence. Knowing that I am loved by God has been transforming me inside-out into his image for decades. Many of God's people have shown me love through the years as well, and I'm pretty sure not all of them liked me very much.

But I want not only to be loved, but to be liked, too--by other people, but especially by God.

You may say that liking or disliking are meaningless concepts with God, but I don't think so. When we read in the Word that David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), I think what Paul is saying is that God really liked David. God loves everyone, but it seems he really liked David. In the same way, Jesus had lots of disciples and 12 apostles, but it seems Peter, James and John were the disciples he really liked. And from John's Gospel it appears Jesus really liked the "beloved disciple."

So I want God to like me. Granted, phrasing my desire in those terms may sound self-serving or naive. How about, "I want to be pleasing to God"? Call it what you will, but I want to be liked by God.

And when I take a look at who I really am and ask, "Does God like me?" I have to answer, "Probably not." That's because God sees not only my words and outward performance, but the real desires and darkness of my heart. And I know that, deep down, I'm not the man I like to think I am. I don't think I'm particularly unsual in this regard--we all have our shadows--but I still don't like what I sometimes see, and I'm pretty sure God doesn't, either.

So what to do? Well, I'm going to keep working to put off sin, put on Jesus Christ, and pray that I keep becoming a man whom God not only loves, but likes, too. And in the mean time, I'm holding on to these words I rediscovered this month from a song I wrote more than twenty years ago:

It seems I'm always running;
     It seems I run too fast.
Am I running the race with honor
     or letting it just slip past?
I've wounded and I've wasted,
     and my failures are a shame.
But I serve a risen Savior
     who loves me just the same.
Amen, amen, amen, and amen.



Copyright 1993, 2014, A. Milton Stanley

From such small hands
I'm Not That Girl

You know the one. The woman who always looks put together, who wouldn’t leave the house without makeup and earrings. I have been that girl. But I’m not right now, though at times I would like to be. Maybe it’s...

From The Living Room
Mary of Magdala: Palm Sunday

Tonight in Bethany my ears still ring
With loud shouts and the rustle of the palms;
Old men, young women, little kids would sing
Their loud hosannas like a victory psalm
To welcome in their conquering King and Lord,
The Victor over pagan rule–and then
You turned on them–You flipped the merchant’s boards
And moneychangers’ tables, and then when
The dust had settled, You cried out: “This place
Should be for prayer, you robbers!” Oh my Lord,
You set Yourself outside the priests’ good grace
Far more than prudence, wisdom would afford.
My Master, I gave up my life to go
With You–but will it bring us grief and woe?


From The Boar's Head Tavern

Huh. The quick edit ate the link. Also, why has the Publish button been removed? This makes the QE box completely useless.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

FP: The link doesn’t work.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Palm Sunday (or Ash Wednesday)

Palm Sunday…

By tradition, churches celebrate this day by having the children parade up the aisles of the church carrying palm branches, symbolizing the palms that the people laid before the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, on that day that began His last week on earth.

Also, by tradition, churches dry those branches, and burn them to ashes and save them all year, so that on “Ash Wednesday” the pastor/priest/man of the cloth can use them to trace the sign of the cross on the foreheads or hands of worshippers.

I’ve never done that – worn the sign of the cross, in ashes, on my forehead for the world to see. It’s not that I’m shy about wearing a cross, either around my neck, or on my shoulder as a tattoo.

I don’t know why.

The churches I’ve attended have been far out of the way from where I’ve worked, so it would have seemed easy to write off getting there before my early work time. Too inconvenient.

For a time, resisting “tradition” or the church calendar in such things felt too “traditional” or even “Catholic” so shying away for that reason could have been justified.

But at the end, I could have stopped at a church nearby work. I could have embraced history.

I think that the idea of the question…all…day…long…”why did you do that?” and “what is that for?” or “what does that mean?” felt too risky.

I love the Church calendar now. God created seasons, and changes, and the yearly rhythm. The church calendar embraces that rhythm and reminds us of the changing seasons. Each Holy Day reminds us of our redemptive history.

Anyway…this should have been written on Ash Wednesday…and this post should have been about Palm Sunday.

But that’s not what went through my brain. Regret at not having the courage to wear ashes on the first day of Lent…

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Where the Son Shines Most

20140412-093404.jpg

As I sat at a picnic table, one of my favorite places to stretch after a walk, and I heard a rustling in the trees behind me. Always aware that wild pigs hang out in this park, I always check those rustling sounds. I’ve never seen a pig, but lots of deer, and Phil and I saw a bobcat once. This time it was a wild turkey.

Anyway, I noticed the grass. The deer and other grass eaters that live here like the meadow areas, and this one has trees around for shelter from human (and predator) eyes.

See in the photo, the clear line of shade and sun…and how the grass stays short and a little sparse in the shade, but grows with wild abandon in the light.

The grass grows best where the sun shines most.

I had read in “Everyday Prayers” how we should start each day with the gospel, letting the Holy Spirit minister grace to us each day. Then came to mind “justification.” – the moment we are declared righteous by the blood of Christ, to become the righteousness of God. The grass is planted.

Tullian Tchividian says (roughly) that our sanctification is being pointed back to our justification. Partly, but I think that’s only part of the story. We use our justification as motivation for our sanctification.

I believe in a monergistic justification, but Scripture does speak of working out (not for) our salvation. It speaks of the works that are prepared for us in advance, it speaks of studying, of becoming more like Christ.

This is sanctification.

We will fail; we will sin. We should (and must) remain secure in the knowledge of our justification. This, the gospel, should stay in our minds each and every day.

We should have more than living in the past set in our sights. We are rooted in the past, our justification. Our justification – being found in Christ – causes our sanctification.

I believe in a synergistic sanctification. Growing in Christ takes our work – powered by the Holy Spirit, granted by God, grown by Christ.

Christians grow best where the SON shines most.

Only when we continually bask in the love of the Saviour, and yes, pointing ourselves back to our justification, only when we bring ourselves out of the shadows of our sin, only when we walk in His light, and His Word, do we have the basis for the works that He has prepared for us.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 ESV)

From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: April 12, 2014

““You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed . . . You’re also finding out something as you read, vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different” ~Neil Gaiman

SatReviewbutton

Welcome 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 Semicolon
Poetry Friday: I is for Imagery

The Destruction of Sennacherib
by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Or if you don’t care for Byron’s use of simile and metaphor, try Ogden Nash’s send-up of Byron, Very Like a Whale.

Michelle H. Barnes has the Poetry Friday Round-up today at Today’s Little Ditty.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
{this} for {that}

It strikes me as I sit at the end of a (nearly) four mile hike that my “diet walk” bears certain similarities to my spiritual walk.

This may ring a familiar tune: “Dear God, if you just grant {this,} then I will…{that.}

If I can {this} then I can {that}

If I do the Rotary Furnace loop in 1:30 or less, than I can sit and enjoy a smoke at the end. (by the way, I did the loop in 1:25, and yes, I’m enjoying a Partagas 1845.)

If mapmywalk says I burned 400 calories, I can eat 2 Cadbury Cream Eggs.

Some days it seems like a reward system, other days it seems like a bargaining system.

Maybe the reward system works: As long as the “treat” doesn’t impinge on my “bad foods” list (gluten, potatoes) maybe the system works. As a bargaining system, I think…not so much.

Does the mindset make a difference?

If I use {that} as a reward because I did so awesome on my workout (tomorrow’s plan is an 8 mile, Quicksilver end-to-end hike) then my goal is still the workout, with the treat at the end.

Turn that around…I want {that} so much, that I’m willing to do the difficult workout in order to get it. The goal is the treat, with the workout as the obstacle. The {that} is controlling my behavior.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “ All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12 ESV)

I don’t know how to tell the difference. I might need to work on that.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Victory!

All you Christian pastors preaching a non-judgmental message of reconciliation and love on the subject of sex and the single Christian can sleep in peace tonight. You’ve gotten through to the young folks.

The important thing is to always remember that if you reject the world’s message of spending your most fertile, healthy years pursuing wealth and pride, you are a bigot, a hater, and demean women. People should NOT get married when their biological drive to reproduce is at its highest. That is oppressive. That is backward. That is what fundies who make their girls wear long hair and jean skirts do. They should spend those years acquiring things and, well, if sex happens, don’t judge. Who has that kind of self-control anyway?

The greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And the second greatest commandment is this: Use protection.

From such small hands
Social Media Diet

I gave up playing Mafia Wars on Facebook for Lent. The practice of “giving up” things for Lent is supposed to be a sacrifice, to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. It’s supposed to free up our minds...

From The Wilsonian Institute
Forever-minded

"Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (2 Corinthians 10:17 ESV)


Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7 ESV)


The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)


"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)


49 years ago today the Astrodome opened as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" hosting an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Today it is a mostly empty shell, hosting only fading memories. It's dwarfed by the newer, bigger, better and shinier Reliant Stadium. Oh, how the mighty has fallen.

I might not have taken much notice of today's Astrodome anniversary if I hadn't already listened to the Johnny Cash interview I posted earlier. In that interview Cash is asked if he sees himself as an icon, the "John Wayne of rock and roll." Cash thinks the question is ridiculous. He says when he looks in the mirror he sees pimples on his nose, a swollen and hurting jaw, and thinning hair.

As much as the interviewer wants Johnny to revel in the glory days of his youth, Cash keeps responding with humility and self-deprecation. I think Cash understood that new things get old, strong things grow weak, and shiny things dim as time passes on. He used to be one of the biggest and brightest stars, but it was all temporary.

Fleeting, just like the novel Astrodome of the 60s (Indoor baseball?! No way!). Temporary things have a way of disappointing over time because they, by definition, don't last. But that's what we always get caught up in, because this world is temporary.

"For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18b ESV)

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)


We are a culture consumed with the temporary. We don't consider eternity, let alone 40 years from now. But what might change if we did? Less spontaneous tattoos, probably, heh. But hopefully and way more importantly, people living now for a kingdom and a King that will stand forever. May we be a people who boast only in the cross of Christ!

From The Wilsonian Institute
The Man in Black Denies Being 'The Man'

Here's an excerpt from an interview with the late Johnny Cash. It's not excitingly revelatory, really, but it's refreshing to hear how down to earth Cash is. He denies being a hero or icon, denies being brave, and just plain keeps it real. I may be giving him too much credit, but I feel like his humble answers are heavily influenced by his faith and the rough times he endured (many as consequences of his own choices).

WARNING: Cash does drop an "S bomb." So be careful little ears what you hear.



From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
with this ring…

Ah…the wedding ring. Many of our traditions concerning this symbol and token began in ancient Egypt.

The ring is a circle – the symbol of eternity. Never ending, always moving. The shape of things far away…the sun and the moon.

But it’s not just the “ring,” the hole in the center where your finger goes carries the symbolism of a gateway. Your finger going through that ring symbolizes an entrance to a new life, changes, opportunities and sorrows, known and unknown – but together.

Even the finger symbolized love. The Egyptians believed that the vein in the third finger on the left hand flowed directly from the heart. The Romans adopted this, calling that vein the “vena amoris” – the vein of love.

The first people who wore wedding rings made them out of hemp or some other kind of fiber…so the love might have been eternal…the ring, not so much.

Later, people used bone, onyx, or other easily carved stone. It was not until coinage became easily “mintable”, that metal rings became more common.

(Note: when silver was popular during the renaissance in Italy, engagement (or betrothal) rings also became popular. The wedding ring was added to the engagement ring; the engagement ring was made of silver and replaced with an identical (gold) ring during the wedding ceremony.)

For a time, in Ireland, people considered it bad luck for a wedding ring to be made from anything other than gold (the poor, prohibited by cost from wearing gold, would have considered themselves prohibited by superstition from wearing anything but gold — stayed ring-less?). The Church of England put a stop to that, teaching that the material didn’t matter, as long as a ring was present.

Contrast that with the Puritans, who believed that any jewelry, including a wedding ring was both vanity and pagan, hardening back to the Egyptian root on the practice, and banned the wearing of wedding rings. This practice stuck: an old friend of mine told that her parents had been brought up in a Pilgrim Holiness church. They were a scandal, since her mom wore a wedding ring.

Millennia later, the wedding ring remains a symbol of love and eternity; so much that the exchange of rings is part of most wedding vows

With this ring, I thee wed…