- Moises Silva
Shut off your devices and read a while. "Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize." (via Loren Eaton)
For something of a contrast, here's a brief article from a subway photographer. "If I worked from inside the subway car instead of from the platform, I discovered, I could come closer to my subjects, allowing the viewer to appreciate the intimate relationship between reader and book. While shooting Wall Street Stop, however, I found that the printed book was rapidly losing ground to iPhones, tablets, and e-readers."
From last week’s message on Acts 17:16-34
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:16-34 (ESV)
Paul begins this episode provoked in spirit over the idolatry all around him. Indeed, Athens was so full of idols that they even had a catch-all altar to the “unknown god”, just in case they missed one.
It’s easy from our modern perch to ridicule the ancients for their idolatry, but if you think about it our generation is no different. The joy that explodes in social media over the release of a new phone OS, the way we fawn over our celebrities, the energy and time spent pursuing that ancient, unholy trinity of sex, money and power; all of this points to a society no more free of idolatry than Athens was, and probably even more idolatrous. We don’t bow before statues, but there are all sorts of things that get us out of bed in the morning that aren’t Jesus.
Paul takes the opportunity in a culture awash in idolatry to introduce them to the one true God. He is a God who has been unknown to his audience, for the most part, though they have been given clear communication of him from creation and have been feeling their way toward him all this time. Of course, when you are groping in the dark you will make mistakes, for our God doesn’t need or want all these man-made temples and sacrifices into which they had put so much energy. This is a God who is very near, and who created everything and everybody.
Paul then comes to the point.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Jesus is the turning point of history. Jesus has come, has lived a perfect life, has suffered under God’s wrath for our sins, has died, and has been raised again. Jesus is the great decision of God to save his offspring, and about whom a great decision is called for in each one of us. Repent, or not. Trust in his great gift, or don’t. Reject our idols and worship the one true God, or continue swimming in a sea of idolatry. Breathe the free air, or drown.
When Paul speaks of the resurrection, some of his listeners begin mocking him. This is because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world and is itself the hinge upon which history swings, but it is also a great scandal and offense to our natural minds, living as we do with the natural assumptions of karma and natural ignorance and misconceptions of holiness and unholiness. Into this ignorance Jesus steps, and in him the cross truly becomes the new tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because when we see him high and lifted up we finally see what holiness truly is, and can discard all our self-idolatry and our misnamed, false goodness. In the cross we also see what unholiness truly is, because of our own deep evil that put Jesus there. The cross is like looking in a mirror that shows us our true reflection. It isn’t pretty, in fact it’s horrifying, but Jesus is beautiful. When he is lifted high he will draw all men to himself.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
Jesus is alive! He has come to free us from idolatry and hopelessness and sin and bring us home to wholeness and holiness and him. Praise his name!
"If it comes to a swinging, swing all, say I."
Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and my little family plans to catch a dozen free doughnuts at Krispy Kreme. If you talk like Long John Silver, they'll give you a doughnut. If you dress like Blackbeard, you'll get a dozen. That's our mark, matey. Other establishments may have deals in your are, but Talk Like a Pirate Day is really about the office watercooler.
"Dead men don't bite," you might say to your shipmate who won't throw you overboard. "Heaven, you fool? Did you ever year of any pirates going thither? Give me hell, it's a merrier place: I'll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance." This is an especially good line for those who have a Roberts on board.
If you're looking for inspiration like some of what I've quoted here, search for quotes from Treasure Island and records of historic quotations.
"In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." Thus spake Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts, according to the scribe, and who can argue with him?
What's more? Here be a boon of quotes for ye, nancy-pants!
Update: In the spirit of authenticity, here's a page with history of some piratey words.
OK, now that I’ve got your attention, the new League of Princes book by Christopher Healy, third in the series, does indeed have pirates. It also has all my favorite characters: Liam the Bold, Gustav the Great, Frederic the Fussy, and Duncan the Village Idiot (my names, and I love Duncan the best). The women in the story—Snow, Ella, Lila, and Rapunzel–escape from prison, form their own league (The Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters, or ffff!), and do a lot better than the guys at defeating Evil. There are also a a couple of new female characters who may be my favorites so far: Jerica the Pirate(!) and Val Jeanval, who assaulted a dozen royal soldiers with a stale, stolen baguette.
I must have a somewhat juvenile sense of humor because I really like these ridiculous fractured fairy tales from Christopher Healy, Chronicler of Heroic Shenanigans. These heroes correct each other’s grammar! They argue over who goes first, the guy or the girl when it comes to rescuing or taking out the villain! They are quite easily distracted by definitions of words and questions of grooming and sartorial style. They are persistent and brave, usually in the wrong direction, at the wrong time, and without a good plan. They find a genie and make stupid, useless wishes! They are wanted for murder in thirteen kingdoms! They use lots of exclamation marks!
I like the humor in these books because it’s silly, wordish, and slapstick without descending to gross-out, crude, or nasty. The characters do a lot of misunderstanding each other’s words with farcical results that are just a step or two above Amelia Bedelia. They stumble all over themselves and each other while attempting to be heroes and heroines. They stop to have useless and entertaining discussions about the plural of “mongoose” and about how people fit those tiny model ships into bottles. Read the first two books first: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. Then, make your way carefully and speedily to The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw, where you will find:
Outlaws! In-laws! Mongeese! (or mongooses?) A fake Royal Foot Massagers Society! ffff! A Djinn from the realm of Baribunda! The legendary Jade Djinn Gem! Jelly, jelly dragonfruit and ginger sandwiches! Captain Euphustus Baileywimple! Sketchy bartenders, salty-tongued sailors, and grime-coated anglers! Pin-striped soldiers! and Pirates! Pirates! PIRATES!! (since it is Talk Like a Pirate Day—Ahoy, matey!)
Over the next few Fridays I will be bringing you a series entitled “How I Became a…” They will give an insight into some of the views that I hold, and how I arrived at those views. We will begin the series with “How I Became a… Theistic-Evolutionist.”
Despite my Evangelical upbringing I have always believed in an Old Earth. I can credit/blame my Father for much of that. He has been the biggest theological influence in my life. Not necessarily in regards to specific topics, but because he was always willing to go against the flow and challenge the status quo. He taught me to question what I was taught to see if it fit what scripture had to say and to see if it fit what I observed with my own logic and reasoning.
When it came to matters of creation, my father believed in an Old Earth. He felt that Youth Earth theories didn’t mesh with the biblical record and didn’t mesh with what he observed in nature. He supported was is known as the “Gap Theory”, that is, that there was a large expanse of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. That is, there is much room between “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth” and “God said, ‘Let there be light.’” In between that time “Earth was without form and void.” He pointed out to me that Genesis doesn’t talk about the fall of Satan, we have to go to the book of Job for that, and that Satan (in the form of a serpent) shows up in the Garden of Eden very early in the story. He conjectured that perhaps the battle with Satan and Satan’s subsequent fall destroyed an original or previous creation of God and caused the Earth to become without form and void, and that what we read about in Genesis 1 is in fact a recreation.
The Gap theory had largely arisen as Christian geologists in the late 1800s and early 1900s sought to harmonize a literal understanding of the creation of Genesis with the geological world around them. By the 1950s it had become the predominant view among Christendom. My father was the first one in his family to become a Christian, and it coincided with the heyday of the Gap theory. My father would answer those who claimed that God had created the world to look old, by asking, “Are you saying that God is a deceiver, making something look old that is in fact new?”
Young Earth Creationism began to over take the Gap theory, and the Gap theory fell out of favour for other reasons as well. However, my belief in an old earth remained.
One of the reasons was the idea of starlight. If a star is one million light years away, then it takes one million years for the light to reach our eyes. If we see a stellar event, and if the universe is only 6000 years old, we are seeing an event that didn’t actually happen. Again it makes God out to be a deceiver.
I have always been someone who has been willing to change his mind on a topic when presented with enough evidence. I have changed my views on a lot of different theological topics (more on this in the weeks to come), but the old earth ideas have always stuck with me. Much of this has to do with the fact the evidence considers to stack up in a one sided manner (and yes I have read material from both sides of the issue.)
In my earlier years one of the books that influenced me the most in this area was in fact a series of essays written by members of the Evangelical Theological Society. “The Genesis Debates: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood” assured me that there was more than one way to understand Genesis and still be an Evangelical Christian. This book was originally published in 1990, and while much has happened in the fields of science and theology since then, it demonstrated that there were valid theological options 25 years ago. (There has since been a similarly named book published since then, don’t confuse the two.)
When it comes to evolution, the field of genetics has revolutionized the discussion. It has been used to discover how humans came to populate the earth. It showed the European based populations interbred with Neanderthals. While evolutionists once speculated at the relationship between humans and other great apes, genetics showed how similar we are. By looking at the rate of genetic change that still occurs, we can extrapolate backwards and find a date for a common ancestor. In the case of of our closest genetic cousin, the Chimpanzee, we can determine that a common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees lived about 6-8 million years ago.
One of the most influential people for me to arrive at my position on this topic is Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who was also head of the Human Genome Project. I would highly recommend his book “The Language of God.” His book helped reassure me that acceptance of evolution was compatible with belief in a Creator God, just with a change in understanding of how he creates.
There were of course theological issues that arise out of this. How are we to understand Adam? Is there a historical Adam? Was Adam the first man, the first human with a God consciousness, the one designated to be the start of God’s working with Israel, or a literary device in a creation story? What about the fall and Paul’s comments in Romans 5 that through Adam sin and death entered the world? While I have not firmly landed on a position on much of this discussion, Peter Enns book, “The Evolution of Adam“, has convinced me that I do have theological wiggle room to be faithful to scripture where ever I might end up on the topic. Despite the topic, this is not a book about evolution, but rather a discussion about “what the bible does and doesn’t say about human origins.”
I have had had many other influences along the way, but these have been some of my key ones. I would encourage you to read the latter two books as they are both both very current in terms of scientific or theological understandings on the topic. My own thinking continues to “evolve” as advances in both the theological and scientific worlds continue.
So that has been my journey in a nutshell. What have your experiences been in this area? What has influence you? Where have you landed, or are you still looking for a place to find your feet?
Something like that anyway. If you like the style of a hard-boiled detective novel or a comic book novelization, lots of short sentences and sentence fragments, wise guys spouting off with trite aphorisms and odd metaphors spilling all over the place, you’ll enjoy Minion as well as its companion novel Sidekicked. For example:
“There are those moments in your life, you know, when the last screw is tightened and the green light flashes and you realize that your whole worldview is a loose thread dangling from the blanket you’ve wrapped so tight around you. And somebody’s gotten ahold of that one thread and is starting to pull. And most of you wants to tug back. To stay warm. To stay safe. To keep things as they are.”
“I get that same strange feeling that I got the last time we sat together. That feeling of rightness. Not rightness opposite of wrongness. Rightness like putting on a favorite pair of jeans. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe normal’s not so bad.”
Michael Morn is a minion: he robs banks and helps his dad make black boxes full of technology for the mob. But Michael isn’t really a bad guy. He just finds it difficult to distinguish between “what’s right and what’s best and why there even has to be a difference.”
He’s not alone in his confusion. All of the characters in the book seem to be somewhat morally ambiguous. The police are inept at best and in the pay of the bad guys at the worst. The superhero who comes to town, The Comet, doesn’t want to show his face and fails to acknowledge the help of his sidekick. Michael’s dad is a criminal and a thief, but he sacrifices safety and money for his son on several occasions. Michael himself can’t decide whether he’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, and by the end of the book he’s still undecided.
If you can deal with the ambiguity and the comic book writing style, Minion is a good read. It’s upper middle grade, maybe even young adult, with some middle school romance and a few crude words (not many). Plus the aforesaid moral ambiguity.
I will be participating in our annual charity golf tournament for the Daniel Mercer Family Fund today, so I thought it would provide a perfect opportunity to hand the keys to the shop over to you and give you the chance to talk about subjects you’d like to discuss.
It would be especially nice to hear from some new readers or infrequent commenters today.
In the nearly five years since I started writing for IM, I have noticed that the community of those who comment tends to wax and wane. Also, most of the time the published conversations end up representing relatively few voices among the thousands of readers that visit Internet Monk each day. That’s just how things work, but on days like today, we have a nice chance to invite those who may not normally weigh in to say “hello” and let us know their thoughts.
So, please participate as you wish, and welcome.
The rules of an Open Forum are mostly common sense and governed by the law of love:
- All are welcome here. You don’t have to sign a doctrinal statement or know the secret handshake.
- Be respectful of others. Disagree if you must, but don’t be disagreeable.
- Try to be as concise and clear in your comments as possible.
- Don’t dominate the discussion.
- Remember: we don’t question others’ salvation around here or try to convert others to our tribe. Don’t be the one to start.
- Please listen.
- We recommend not using links because the filters will get’cha and I won’t be around to let you out of moderation jail. If you want to point someone to an article, etc., try to do it without using the actual URL.
- Dead horses should not be beaten, but buried. Know when it’s time to stop sluggin’ and start diggin’.
Enjoy the day and the conversation.
And while you’re thinking up something to discuss, here’s your Chaplain, getting ready for the links today:
Jeffrey Overstreet talks about sports-and-faith movies in relation to the recent film When the Game Stands Tall. He says movies of this type usually reinforce bad ideas and behaviors.
"It's a simple formula," he says. "Show that winning and losing is fraught with trouble if the game is played for the wrong reasons (for glory, for money, for self-gratification). Then show the athletes learning some Sunday school lessons about humility and teamwork. And once they've learned those lessons, then give the audience the satisfaction of seeing those who are In The Right achieve personal victories (reconciling the family, winning the virtuous but skeptical girl, overcoming the bullies)... and, usually, scoreboard victories as well."
The story easily preaches that good guys or the faithful will win, and God will win it for you, supporting the common belief that a good life with earn good rewards. There's truth there, but when life gets hard or unjust, then we will crumble if our faith is in this formula, not the living God. I think the church in America needs the backbone that would come from knowing God is faithful even when we don't win.
Jeff offers a good list of ideas he would like to see challenged in a movie about sports:
- "how the commercialization of sports ends up encouraging lifestyles that are the antithesis of teamwork, health, and wholeness;
- how money corrupts the whole enterprise, from outrageous salaries to the excesses of the circuses that tend to surround professional sports events;
- how sports culture glorifies youth, and finds little of value in the experience of aging, so that athletes vanish from the national stage once they are too old to dominate the stage (unless they have enough charisma to become part of the youth-worshipping media machine);
- how "fan spirit" usually devolves into tribalism."
That's only half of his list. Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? If you like, share your thoughts on other sports-themed movies.
For years, the New York Times has curated the most coveted bestseller lists of our day. Now they are building on that strength by adding such topics as Travel, Humor, Family, Relationships, Animals, Politics, Manga, and many more, each list bound to occupy literary banterers and book ballyhoo-ers for an hour or so. These won't be published every week. Some will rotate through the month.
Melville House has dug up even more lists to be introduced by everyone's friends at the New York Times Book Review. Here are some of the lists you will want to keep on eye on.
Most Fully Realized: Every week, The New York Times Book Review describes dozens of books as being "fully realized." This lists ranks the top ten fully realized books from "Most Fully Realized" to "Least Most Fully Realized."
Bestselling Young Adult (Cancer): The most successful books for teenagers that include cancer as a major or minor subplot.
James Patterson: The 10 bestselling James Patterson books released this month. (BTW, Patterson has outsold every other living author and holds a Guinness record for most books on the NY Times Bestseller List.)
Bestselling Non-Sellers: Amazon gives lots of books away for free. The "Best Non-Sellers List" will rank the top books downloaded by Amazon users for $0.00.
Literature: No genre fiction. Unless, of course, genre is employed ironically.
“Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after . . . a disaster that ruins the world. Possible apocalyptic disasters include nuclear warfare, pandemic, extraterrestrial attack, impact event, cybernetic revolt, technological singularity, dysgenics, supernatural phenomena, divine judgment, climate change, resource depletion or some other general disaster.”
“A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.”
Obviously there is/can be some overlap here. Hunger Games is dystopian fiction, but it is hinted that some apocalyptic disaster caused the government of Panem to become what it was. Divergent also falls into this in between category, with most of the emphasis being on the uncovering of the dystopia underneath the seeming utopia of future Chicago. Parched is both post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.
Disaster: fifty years of climate change leading to world wide drought and a severe shortage of water.
Ostensible utopia that is actually a dystopia: Eden, a city enclosed by white walls and a clear protective dome under which water is kept for the exclusive benefit of the Edenites. Outside Eden is the Badlands where millions live in violent anarchy with a growing shortage of water.
Government: authoritarian, led by a dictator named Gyan and a group of functionaries called the Trust.
Hero/heroine: Sixteen year old Tessendra Rockwood, an Edenite who, because of the tragic accident that killed her mother, has left the protective environment she grew up in to live in the Badlands outside the city.
Rebel group: Kudzu, a group of teens who are determined to change their world by means of non-violent resistance.
Technology: Eden is highly technological with robots called “substitutes” that perform most of the menial labor in the city, and the development of artificial intelligence is on the horizon for the scientists of Eden. Inhabitants of the Badlands exist on the edges of civilization, using primitive low-tech weapons and the cast-off technology of Eden to survive.
I thought Parched was well-written and solid in its world-building and characterizations. I did figure out one of the two major “reveals’ in the book before they were revealed, but I’m not sure every reader would. And sometimes Tess acts sixteen year old dumb while at other times she is brave, strong, and skilled way beyond her years. If the “border crisis” in Parched is meant to mirror and comment on the current border crisis in the U.S., it’s eerily prescient since the book was published in March of this year just before the border crisis began to dominate the news in mid-summer.
There is teen romance in Parched (no triangle, thank goodness), but it’s an interesting and somewhat restrained romance. There is some mild bad language, which could have have been left out, but unfortunately wasn’t. The language, violence, theme of rebellion against a repressive government, and romance make this one firmly YA, although both younger and older readers who like Orleans by Sherri Smith or Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities would also like Parched.
When people ask, “What do you believe?” I recite the Apostles’ Creed. In my opinion, there is no better summary of the gospel than that simple, narrative-oriented statement. This is my story.
But I was thinking today that I might like to have a more personal statement, one that not only outlines the objective story I believe, but also reflects the specific promises in Christ which I have found hold me fast and give me strength.
So, I came up with the following.
The first four lines are a direct quote from Frederick Buechner that I have cited many times before. The rest is designed to give it a fuller eschatological perspective.
My goal is to craft a statement that is simple yet comprehensive, realistic about life and death, and focused on God’s gracious promises in Christ. I will use it in prayer and contemplation to assist me in keeping my focus on what is truly important.
This is my outlook, my faith, and my hope.
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
And I will free you to love and be loved.
This is the life I have for all my children.
One day, you will be gathered to your people.
But even there I will not forsake you.
For Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.
Because he lives, so too shall you.
And all will be well.
"There must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill,
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet;
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet
Beneath each birken shade, on mead or hill.
There each trim lass that skims the milky store
To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots;
By night they sip it round the cottage-door,
While airy minstrels warble jocund notes."
From Wiliam Collins, "An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry"
The Herald of Scotland is culling a list of the 100 best Scottish novels from their readers. They have 30 so far, including The Death of Men by Allan Massie, The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown, and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott.
Readers might take this recent list of crime fiction into consideration. They say Scotland can have an sobering, perhaps despairing, effect on people. Writer Helen Fitzgerald appears to disagree.
"My mum said 20 years living in the grey, murder capital of Western Europe, has made me write about darkness, despair, and deviance. She suggested I come home to Australia to write something with hope and joy in it. Taking her advice, I headed downunder in December, sat at an outside table in a cheerful, sunny beach-side cafe, and started writing. The story I started writing is about a dysfunctional Australian couple who accidentally overdose, kill and bury their baby whilst a raging bushfire burns folk to a crisp in the distance. Sorry Mum, it's not Glasgow. It's me."
Win a T-shirt and book from 20 Schemes:
I really enjoyed certain aspects of this murder mystery set in 1932 among the rich, royal, famous, and impecunious of England. It had the flavor of I Capture the Castle mixed with Downton Abbey mixed with a little P.G. Wodehouse. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the Duke of Glen Garry and Ranoch, aka Georgie, finds herself unmarried, without funds, and without a real goal in life. She decides to leave the drafty castle in Scotland that belongs to her older brother the duke, aka Binky, and try her luck in London, unchaperoned and completely unsure about her future plans.
“I reminded myself that it is the 1930’s. Young ladies were allowed to do more than embroider, play piano, and paint watercolors. And London was a big city, teeming with opportunities for a bright young person like myself.”
Georgie, in addition to being of the aristocracy, is also a (very)minor royal, thirty-fourth in line to the throne. The title and the relations don’t get her much in the way of money, but she does get a summons from the queen (Queen Mary, wife of George V) and a commission to do a little bit of harmless spying on Prince Edward and the American woman he seems to have become involved with. However, Georgie finds that surviving on one’s own is more difficult than she had imagined, and spying on a prince comes with its own hazards.
Georgie is a wonderful character, intelligent but innocent. I liked her, and I liked seeing her navigate her way through the perils and amusements of a certain segment of London society. However, the minor characters are not so delightful. Georgie takes up with an old school friend whose constant advice is that Georgie must lose the dreadful “burden” of her virginity as soon as possible. Georgie doesn’t take her friend’s advice, but she is sorely tempted. And she never really mounts any kind of a moral or philosophical defense against this promiscuous and shallow idea of what life is all about.
So, I liked the setting, the plot was OK, and the main character is fun to watch, even if she is a little too easily influenced by foolish and unsavory characters. But the constant drumbeat of propaganda in favor of promiscuous, unattached sexual encounters spoiled the rest of the story for me, even though the actual sexual escapades in the book are limited in number and off-stage. I probably won’t read the rest of the series.
The Whirlwind Creation Museum: an imaginary tour, inspired by ch. 5, “Behemoth and the Beagle,” from The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, by William P. Brown, and ch. 12, “God of the Whirlwind,” from Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, by Ronald E. Osborn.
God’s answer to Job provides the most panoramic view of creation in all of the Hebrew Bible (Job 38:1-42:6). On its surface, the text serves to chasten Job and expose the limitations of his knowledge and ability (38:2; 40:2, 8-14). But never has a rebuke been so colorful and richly textured, even from God. God reproves Job by taking him on a scenic detour through creation’s rugged, far-flung lands, a mind-bending tour of the vast domains of cosmology, meteorology, and zoology. God’s answer features such a variety of particularities, from hail to hawks, that some scholars have compared these chapters to the ancient Near Eastern genre of a catalogue or list. . . . (pp. 116-117)
. . . we must credit God with the making of biting and stinging insects, poisonous serpents, weeds, poisonous weeds, dangerous beasts, and disease-causing organisms. That we may disapprove of these things does not mean that God is in error or that He ceded some of the work of Creation to Satan; it means that we are deficient in wholeness, harmony, and understanding — that is, we are “fallen.” (Wendell Berry, quoted in Osborn, p. 151)
• • •
Welcome to the Whirlwind Creation Museum. Other so-called creation museums place their emphasis on a narrow, literalistic, modernist reading of the early chapters of Genesis. They imagine that these chapters simply “tell it like it is” — this is how God did it. Period. We, however, focus on a more panoramic and comprehensive text about how God created and rules over the universe, our world and its inhabitants: Job, chapters 38-42. This passage reminds us that we weren’t there, and none of us actually has any idea what God has wrought or how it all fits together. Job teaches us that herein lies wisdom.
It is my pleasure to give you an overview of the museum today, so that I might then set you free to explore the vast wonders of creation on your own — wonders that go beyond our human ability to describe and explain.
You see, we think the most basic truth about creation is its ultimate incomprehensibility.
Though we humans have the privilege to use our minds and imaginations to explore and discover and theorize and understand God’s creation, we will never come to the end of it. Its sheer scope and its innumerable mysteries resist our attempts to grasp it all. Its contradictions and conundrums stretch the limits of our logic. Before this great universe, we are very small. We do not think this should discourage us, however. Instead, we devote ourselves to learning, appreciating, contemplating, and proclaiming the splendor of God’s handiwork. In the end we yield our quest for all knowledge to the spirit of trust and worship.
Our Whirlwind Tour begins “with the farthest reaches of the cosmos and [concludes] with the tightly knit scales of the sea-dragon, from the farthest to the smallest scale of perception, from cosmos to chaos” (Brown, p. 125).
That sound of heavy construction you hear would be overwhelming if we were to play it at full volume. It’s God, laying the foundations of the earth, his holy Temple. He measured the entire space — the whole world! — and sank everlasting pillars to support it. He laid his temple’s cornerstone at a glorious dedication ceremony, an event celebrated by the innumerable hosts of heaven as they raised their voices in celestial song — choirs and orchestras filling the skies! Were you there? Can you imagine what it must have been like? The cacophonous sound! The overwhelming power displayed in sinking mountainous foundation stones through the ocean depths! The painstaking craftsmanship involved in forming each plain and forest, each hill and vale, each mountain and desert region!
And then, slam! the entire universe echoes with a thunderous bang of doors being forced shut upon the raging waters of all the oceans and seas, rivers and lakes, setting bounds and firmly holding them in place like a mother swaddles her newborn and cradles him securely in her arms. Were you there? Can you imagine? The tsunami is turned back! With bare hands, God turns the course of the raging river!
Please board this tramcar with me and hang on. As we round the corner, suddenly there is light! Brilliant, blinding light! And just as suddenly, as though by a switch, we descend into a depth beyond darkness. From the blazing surface of the sun to the gates of Hades and its deathly dark we ride, through vast Himalayan-sized storehouses of rain, snow, and hail waiting to be let loose upon the earth. Then out through heaven’s windows into the night, we fly among the constellations and the immeasurable emptiness of space. Have you ever been there? Can you even possibly imagine? Light streaking from billions and billions of incandescent sources! Darkness so deep you feel it on your skin! Weather, and storms, and thunders and lightnings so impetuous, so terrifying, so dazzling!
As we come back to this world, let us move next into our zoology section, one of the Whirlwind Museum’s most impressive and, some say, maddening exhibits. I’ve heard it tends to disturb some folks’ theology.
Why? you may ask. Well, let’s begin with our first animal, the lion, a fierce carnivore. Who provides food for the lion? Or how about the scavenging, predatory raven? Who delivers its prey? Tough questions, if the intended answer is “God” (which it is).
Who made these wild animals, such as the wild donkey and wild ox, to resist dominion in a world where humans are to exercise it? This is the truly wild kingdom which humans fear and avoid. And yet it is God’s world, and it is good.
Who made the ostrich so that she forgets her young and treats them cruelly? Again, this is an animal God made to have “no wisdom . . . no share in understanding.” How puzzling!
Look at the majestic horse, made perfectly for war and violence, mighty in strength and agility, smelling in its very nostrils the aroma of battle, ever waiting for the trumpet to sound. Who made that?
And what about the hawks, the eagles, the vultures, who soar above and gaze down with one thought in mind — dinner! Wait. God provides carrion for the birds of prey?
God describes each one with such evocative detail that Job is afforded a point of view that lies utterly beyond himself, a perspective that is God’s, but one that the animals also share. Job is invited to see the looming battle through the eyes of the warhorse, to spy out corpses through the eyes of the vulture, to roar for prey as the lion, to cry for food like the raven’s brood, to roam free on the vast plains, to laugh at fear, and to play in the mountains. Job’s Earth trek is no descent but an ascent to Nature. (Brown, p. 128)
The high point of our zoological exhibit features two of God’s most fearsome creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. “Whatever they are, these larger-than-life beasts are the quintessential embodiments of the wild, highly esteemed by God . . .” (Brown, p. 128). These creatures were known in Ancient Near Eastern myths as the purveyors of chaos, which must be overcome in order for the gods to create the world. But God speaks to Job of them differently. For all their awe-inspiring terror, God says of Behemoth: “It is the first of the great acts of God,” (Job 40:19) and of Leviathan: “On earth it has no equal, a creature without fear” (Job 41:33).
Were you there when God made these wild, dangerous, and wonderful creatures? Have you been to their dens? Have you stood face to face with them? Can you exercise any control over them? Can you imagine such wonder, such intricacy, such terrifying mystery as you see in creatures like these?
• • •
This is the end of our tour, for now. I now release you to ponder, to imagine, to contemplate how wondrous and immense and incomprehensible God’s creation must be.
If this tour has taught me anything, it is that God’s creation is not simple, nor is it grasped by human minds. From the side of those who practice the Christian religion, this tour can at first be a faith-shaker. You will notice that nowhere in Job does God assign blame for the messiness of creation to a “fall” or the presence of sin as we do in our theodicies. So, when we put the simple, neat descriptions of Genesis 1-2, with their orderly seven-day pronouncements of a good world and a garden paradise next to this wild and frightful vision of a messy, untamed, complex and bewildering world, which includes competition, circumstances of endless variety (both “good” and “bad” from our perspective), seemingly uncontrollable freedom on the part of God’s creatures, discomfort, difficulties, violence, death, and unexplained suffering, it can be disorienting.
As it was to Job.
Yet it is in bowing before God in the midst of all this mess, this turbulent whirlwind of creation, rather than insisting we be able to explain it, categorize it, and systematically theologize it, that we find Job’s wisdom.
And ultimately, it is when we come to Jesus Christ, whose own mother suffered the pangs of birth to bring forth a new creation, and who himself “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9), that we find One who walks with us every day through the whirlwind.
• • •
For those who wish to see the awe-inspiring story of the discovery of Chauvet Cave (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with its wondrous Paleolithic cave paintings, the oldest human art known on earth (30-33,000 years old), I recommend Werner Herzog’s documentary film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is available for free on Netflix for subscribers, and for rental or purchase from Amazon.
People have begun to publically worry that the world is forgetting what happened in Ferguson, Missouri over a month ago. I haven't forgotten. I was praying for the families there this morning.
I could say many things about the Michael Brown shooting, how the police have handled it, how the community has handled it, the demonstrations, and the militarization of civil police forces. My perspective on these things has been stretched, and I don't want ignore it. So let's talk about "white privilege."
You can see it in videos like this, showing a social experiment. A white guy tries to break into a car for thirty minutes, alarm blaring, without being questioned or stopped. A black guy does the same for less than five minutes before police show up. You have to assume witnesses believed the white guy had lost his keys (or something legit), but the black guy was obviously committing a crime. (Here's a man's reaction to the video, blaming blacks for legitimizing the stereotype they dislike.) I'm told the same kind of experiment has been tried with two men and a woman, each pushing a car up a street. Witnesses ignore the white man, question (or call police on) the black man, and offer to help the white woman.
In these cases, white privilege-no matter what the term may imply when pundits and professors use it-means being able to get on with your life without harassment, even when your car has broken down. Dr. Jarvis Williams describes other ways the term applies: getting a job or promotion, hailing a cab, or walking around a department store on your own merits, not being judged by the color of your skin. As a white man, I have never thought I could look suspicious while browsing a store, but that has been the experience of many respectable people who are judged regularly by their skin color. The absence of that public suspicion is what "white privilege" means.
Dennae Pierre is a white woman who married a black man eight years ago. In a post today, she describes a small part of how her perspective on being black in America has changed. "I may have been able to have deep discussions with my husband about race, but I hadn't lived THAT intimately side by side with someone who was African American and really given them permission to give me all their unfiltered thoughts with no threat of judgment, just a desire to really understand."
What will we understand if we truly listen? We'll understand that many Americans come from a family or a community that has been beaten down one way or another for years. They know people who were denied a drink at an old-style department store. They remember seeing reasonable, intelligent neighbors or relatives abused by police who were supposed to be keeping the peace. They were told by their elders that they would have to work twice as hard as others just to appear to be pulling their own weight, that they were prejudged at a disadvantage.
Some of us may have experienced discrimination like this, but we didn't attribute it to our white skin. We thought we were facing tough competition. Perhaps we blamed it on group politics. It's a whole other level to have enough evidence to suspect, if not actually believe, the opposition we have faced is society-dominant racial discrimination. That's a hurdle we can't jump through personal exercise or study.
What can a young woman do about how police perceive her? Young actress Daniele Watts discovered how little she could do when she was cuffed and detained the other day on suspicion of being a prostitute. The evidence? She had been seen kissing her husband a few minutes prior. Why didn't the cops approach him first?
It's an ugly story, and you can see she takes it personally. "As I was sitting in the back of the police car, I remembered the countless times my father came home frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong. I felt his shame, his anger, and my own feelings of frustration for existing in a world where I have allowed myself to believe that 'authority figures' could control my BEING... my ability to BE!!!!!!!"
I gather she means her ability to be a black woman married to and publically affectionate with a white man. This isn't something that goes away by ignoring it. It isn't a minor incident in a young person's life. It's a defining moment, and the idea that such a moment is unthinkable for my wife is the definition of white privilege.
So what can be done? Let's talk about it.
“Is it true what Aunt June says, that everything happens for a reason?”
It’s a key question, and A Month of Sundays, true to the times in which we live, does not presume to give an answer to the question. However the book does presume to raise the right question(s), and for that reason alone, Ms. White deserves kudos.
April Garnet Rose and her mother were deserted by Garnet’s dad before she was born, and now when she finds out that her mother is planning to move to Florida to look for work and a place to live, leaving her behind until things get settled, Garnet feels hurt, abandoned, and furious. Garnet doesn’t even know Aunt June, her father’s sister, who has agreed to take care of her in Virginia while her mother is looking for a job. Then, Garnet finds out that Aunt June believes everything happens for a reason and that April Garnet has come to help her in her search for God.
A Month of Sundays is a short book, 168 pages, and it takes place over a short period of time, a little over a month, but a lot happens in that time. Garnet and Aunt June visit a few different churches and a revival service, searching for God.
Aunt June: “You came here to help me find God. I’ve been searching for him for months now. . . I try a different church every week. Yesterday I was at Big Branch, and last week I went to Little Prater. Now I’ll have you to go with me and help.”
They see people speaking in tongues and handling snakes and preaching and singing. Garnet falls for a preacher boy. But Garnet and her aunt stay on the periphery of the church, observers rather than participants, until Aunt June gets a miracle. Then, Garnet experiences her own miracle—and a tragedy.
I thought it was a good little story, presented in a way that respected the beliefs of various sects without endorsing them. Young readers will be left to make up their own minds about snake-handling and speaking in tongues and faith healing and God. It was a little odd that no one really thought they had “found God” by the end of the book, at least not the Christian God of the Bible. But maybe that’s not who they were looking for in the first place.
From today’s reading of Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:35-43 (ESV)
“. . . they laughed at him. But he put them all outside . . .” may be my favorite line from this narrative. It comes shortly on the heels of Jesus’ tender exhortation to a grieving father: “Do not fear, only believe.” Words to live by. To really live by.
Jesus has no time in this narrative for the pragmatists, the cynics, those who laugh (literally) in the Face of faith, hope and love. He puts them all outside.
The miracle of the raising of this little girl is not for show; indeed, Jesus allows only a very small audience for it and strictly charges them to tell no one afterwards. As with all of Jesus’ signs, there is both a near and far impact. The “near” is, of course, the joy-drenched raising of a beloved daughter, not to mention the effect this would have had on Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus gently called her back from death and she immediately responds to him. There is Jesus’ thoughtful request that she be fed. We are witnesses here to a wonderful and wondrous, gracious gift of life from Jesus to this family.
It prefigures the farther, wider impact of Jesus’ gracious gift of life to us. As the pragmatists thought that the little girl was too far gone, so were we. She was dead, after all. So were we.
No. After all the despair and destruction that the curse of death wreaks on us, there is Jesus to call us back. He calls us when we are dead in our trespasses and sins, enemies of God, pragmatically without hope or a future, with no way to rise to him. In a moment, from dead to immediately – I love Mark’s repeated use of that word throughout his gospel – alive, walking, being fed. This is what Jesus has done for those who are in Christ, for those who have heard his call.
Note from CM: Michael wrote this post in September, 2009. Let me ask our evangelical friends — have things changed in evangelical churches since he wrote these words?
• • •
The wedge contemporary evangelicals are driving between young and old is incredibly short sighted and deadly. Doesn’t the Bible itself say that the older should teach the younger? We’ve turned things around so that anything new (even if unproven) and appealing to the not yet mature, still developing young is trotted out as appropriate worship. More experienced, mature Christians who should be teaching the young about and sharing with them their great Christian heritage are instead asked to “get with it” or “get out.” The evangelical church will die if all it can do is try to keep up with secular culture and make its focus offering whatever the latest fads or glitz it can to “attract” the young as if the church were somehow dependent on a Christian advertising machine rather than God to draw people to Him.
I took Denise to morning mass at Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”) Roman Catholic Church in Moultrieville, SC. Almost 50 in attendance, of every age. Two priests. Two acolytes and two altar boys. Traditionalist. Ad orientem. Eucharist offered in one kind and most didn’t receive it in the hand. Lots of other traditionalist stuff happening. Several Latin masses during the month. All the little things.
I’m watching a father bring his 5 year old (?) to mass, take his hand and dip it in the water, make the cross for him, then take him to his seat and show him how to genuflect. Teenagers around me- apparently on retreat- are immersed in the various actions of Catholic worship, as are all the worshipers of every age this morning. Of course, adults of every age. Plenty of men. At least half or more of the congregation was male.
The traditionalist flavor of mass is more interesting to me, even in this low mass on a weekday, and I’ve read Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy and know where these priests are coming from. There’s a sign at the entrance to the church saying the parish can’t register any more members from outside their boundaries. Translation: traditionalism is popular down here in Charleston.
The whole idea of the daily mass, and the level of devotion one sees among so many Catholics such as those surrounding me, has to be of real interest to any post-evangelical. Evangelicalism is diverse, but as a movement it is simply engaging less and less with worship, spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines and any form of tradition. The multi-site, internet driven model combined with evangelicalism’s inherent pragmatism and entrepreneurialism makes one wonder if clicking at the computer terminal or taking in the 20 minute drive up/drop in service can be far away as significant models of evangelical Christianity’s virtues.
I am especially impressed with how a small child and an 80 year old man are functioning within the same world of thought, ritual and understanding. Within evangelicalism, we have communities with strong elements of tradition that bind generations together, but overall, we have compromised this to the core, allowing the quest to make the faith acceptable to teenagers to define the style and substance of everything. Where has evangelicalism gone in the last 60 years? Toward maturity and the core of the faith, or toward the latest efforts to be relevant to the young? The old among us are often those who manage to hang on amidst a hurricane of changes.
I see evangelicals doing less and less that will hold anyone in the faith into their 80s. If I were 80, I wouldn’t go near 99% of evangelical churches. The traditionalists somewhere would have me as a customer.
One oddity. No crucifix up front. One on the altar (well, slightly above it), but no large crucifix at the front anywhere. Central figures: Madonna and Child. Is this unusual? I thought the crucified Jesus visually up front was the usual.
In one publication, the priest said that young people are hyper-connected to one another via technology, but unconnected to God. The church must offer that connection in its mass. Quite a provocative take on the purpose of all of this. No surprise how I feel about it, but he is saying that the church’s great role is to be that which connects us to God. You have to deal with that, because he is right about young people, but can the Protestant Gospel offer the connection to God without the church in the role of mediator? If not, then Catholicism makes a lot of sense.
I could never be a Roman Catholic for theological reasons that won’t change, but if I were, this traditionalist-flavored variety would be quite appealing.
From today’s reading of Matthew 13 and Luke 8
And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” – Luke 8:41-48 (ESV)
I love this episode from the gospels. Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’ twelve year old daughter who is at the point of death. This woman, twelve years into a physical malady that was not only debilitating but also rendered her permanently ceremonially unclean, touches the fringe of Jesus’ garment and is made well.
Jairus and the woman occupy very different stations in life, but both have come to the end of themselves. Jairus is on the brink of losing a daughter that he has treasured for twelve years. The woman has spent all her treasure trying to gain back the health that she has been denied for twelve years. Jairus is an important man, a ruler of the synagogue; the woman would have been considered quite unimportant in that culture, an untouchable, due to her discharge. But both are important to Jesus, and both receive the healing that only Jesus can give.
There is a sweetness to this narrative; Jesus not only heals the woman, but as he so often did for the untouchables and outcasts the he ministered to, he takes special care to publicly honor the one who has had dishonor heaped upon her for so long. Jesus could have allowed her to be healed when she touched him, and left it at that. It could have been their little secret. Instead, he calls her out; “Who was it that touched me?” As Peter points out, a lot of people have touched him; he is in a press of people. But only one touched him in faith for healing.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” This trembling, timid, yet valiant woman has been touched by Jesus, and is blessed publicly by our gallant Savior, the one who lifts up the downcast and honors the desperate, timid faith of those on the outskirts of polite society and at the end of themselves.
My novel Wolf Time, so long out of print, is now available as an e-book! Kindle version available here.
Repetitive. Hard. Weird. Seriously depressing. Ultimately hopeful?
The things I’m marking in the book of Ezekiel as I try to read and make sense of it are the phrases and ideas that Ezekiel repeats over and over:
Son of man: God’s nickname for Ezekiel. Almost every time God speaks to Ezekiel, the Lord calls his priest/messenger boy, “Son of man” or “Son of Adam.” Ezekiel’s actual name is only mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:3 and 24:24. The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-‘adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase is used mostly in Ezekiel (93 times). (Wikipedia)
I remember that Jesus called himself the “Son of man.” What does that mean? It means that Ezekiel and Jesus were both human, both sons of Adam. We forget the humanity of Christ sometimes, that God took on human flesh, that he humbled himself, that he was a “son of Adam” as well as son of God. This dual nature as the theologians call it is, of course, a mystery. But it is also an encouragement. God spoke to a son of man (Ezekiel), and God became the Son of Man (Jesus).
The glory of the Lord: My pastor preached about this phrase this morning. In Ezekiel chapter 11 the glory of the Lord departs from His temple and the glory doesn’t return until chapter 43. What is this glory?
John MacArthur, Grace to You: “The glory of the Lord is the expression of God’s person. It is any manifestation of God’s character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory.”
And the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“The everlasting Logos, the Word of God, who was with God and who is God, has now inhabited the creation that He made.”
Thus saith the Lord, or the word of the Lord came to me or declares the Lord: Ezekiel indicates over and over again that God actually spoke to him, audibly and in visions. Again, the word came to Ezekiel, but that’s only a hint of the final Word that was and is to come, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.
Then you will know (or they will know) that I am the Lord This phrase appears more than sixty times in the book of Ezekiel. God tells the people through Ezekiel that He is planning to bring great calamity and judgment upon them and that then they will know that I AM THAT I AM. Sin separates us from the life and the glory of God, but we will no longer ignore His word or His glory when He brings both judgment and mercy to bear upon our sin.
He is there, and He is not silent. ~Francis Schaeffer
And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. Exodus 7:5
The LORD is known by his acts of justice. Psalm 9:16
The true state, both of nations and of individuals, may be correctly estimated by this one rule, whether in their doings they remember or forget God. ~Matthew Henry
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 4:9-11
Work joins prayer and sacred reading in an integrated and well balanced monastic life.
• Fr. Charles Cummings
For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you.
• 2Thessalonians 3:7-8, NLT
• • •
In this chapter of Monastic Practices, Fr. Charles Cummings encourages us to learn from the long tradition of monks and nuns that manual labor offers “a distinct value to the spiritual life.” From the earliest days of monastic communities, they sought to learn from the example of biblical saints like Paul, who worked at a trade while serving God in his apostolic vocation.
Cummings notes that monastic work has taken different forms and has been pursued for various reasons. The early Desert saints found that keeping their hands occupied gave them greater capacity for concentration on God. Therefore, they took up relatively small tasks, such as basket-weaving or tending small gardens to assist them in their spiritual exercises.
Later, Benedict had to look at work differently. His Rule was for a larger community, one which needed to sustain itself. Yet he also fixed specific limits on the time to be spent daily in manual work in order that they might devote themselves primarily to liturgical prayer.
If keeping a balanced schedule of work, prayer, and sacred reading is a constant challenge for those in religious orders, how much more for those of us who are called to fulfill the daily demands of more ordinary lives? Yet perhaps we can learn lessons from watching the monks and nuns at work.
Monasteries might demonstrate how persons can use modern mechanization and automation without being dominated and dehumanized by it. The fascinating world of science and technology dominates human beings and becomes their idol when they forget that human hands and minds have fashioned these machines and can remain in control of them. Another role which monks and nuns might fulfill is to take responsibility for the short term and long term effects of human intervention with the processes of nature and the fertility of the land. Perhaps monks and nuns can be examples of the restrained and prudent use of energy and alternative forms of energy. In an age when people can scarcely think except in terms of the largest possible scale, the fastest, most powerful, most up-to-date, most expensive possibilities, monasteries might give witness to the value of what is more manageable, poorer, more compatible with the deeper needs of the human spirit. In a society where some consider work merely a necessary evil and would prefer to live on welfare or stock dividends, monks and nuns can be example of motivated workers finding a genuine fulfillment as human beings. (p. 47-48)
Cummings also reminds us that, “Monastic work is often hidden, humble, anonymous, even monotonous” (p. 51). Perhaps we who are required to toil at unsatisfying jobs can take heart from remembering those who are also laboring at assigned menial tasks without notice or applause, yet learning ways to offer their work to God. The author calls this, “the life of everyday routine and quiet, steady accomplishments, like a tree silently growing to maturity” (p. 52). Even seemingly meaningless and impossible tasks can remind us that our human weakness is part of God’s plan and an acceptable sacrifice to heaven.
The balance of work with prayer and sacred reading also relativizes work and reminds us that being precedes doing in God’s eyes. My worth as a person does not come from what I do or accomplish, though it is a strong temptation to see things that way, especially in a capitalistic society.
Indeed, work can be a form of prayer. And the point at which work and prayer converge is when I labor from a heart of love. When I do my work as an act of love toward God and others, I need not be consciously aware of God for it to “count” as prayer. Of course, if my tasks allow me space and freedom to lift my spirit in prayer while I’m at them, so much the better. However, when we are at work, we must be at work. I have seen too many Christians (including myself) who have not been dependable workers, yet they somehow find a way to excuse themselves, imagining that their Christian faith exempts them from the common duty of hard work and paying diligent attention to the task at hand.
Nor is mere activism the answer. There is an addiction that carries a lust for being “in the game” of work, where the action is, always being “on,” constantly engaged in doing things that make one feel important — we call it “workaholism.” Who I am and what I do become indistinguishable. We might think this impossible in a place like a monastery, but Cummings disabuses us of that notion. There are activist monks too, people in religious orders who see themselves as professionals who find their identity more in running the business affairs of the community than in the life of religious devotion. This is a human temptation.
It can also enslave us. An overemphasis on work can shield me from silence, from dealing with other people, from facing God himself. It can steal life from us. “The things that make life worth living can be appreciated only when we slow down and work in a more leisurely, balanced and human way” (p. 65). As a beginning, Fr. Cummings recommends that we revisit God’s gifts of Sabbath and Lord’s Day.
Ultimately, we are called to remember the purpose and meaning of work, which was instituted by God, according to the Bible, in the very beginning. God himself is a Worker. In our labor we join him and ask his blessing in all we do.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
• Psalm 90:16-17, NRSV
“I divide all readers into two classes: Those who read to remember and those who read to forget.” ~William Phelps
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.
I didn’t know until the very end of this book what the title “the green glass sea” meant, but it turned out to be an appropriate name for a particularly enjoyable book. The Green Glass Sea was the winner of the 2007 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, an award presented to a children’s or young adult book published in English by a U.S. publisher and set in the Americas. I certainly concur with the award committee and with several reviewers who liked the book a lot, including Kelly at Big A Little a, Bookshelves of Doom, and Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 (that last review is where I think I heard about this book and put it on my TBR list several years ago.)
Published in 2006, the book’s setting is World War II, 1943-1945, in Los Alamos, NM. I learned a lot, painlessly, about the Manhattan Project and the background to the development of the atomic bomb just from reading this book. I didn’t know that Los Alamos didn’t even appear on the map during the mid-1940’s, and that the project was such a secret that the scientists who were working on it had to live in a place called the Hill (Los Alamos). In the book kids and adults were told, “Off the Hill, you can’t tell anyone where you live, or who you live with, or what you see or hear.”
The setting and the characters drive the plot in this rather quiet story about an eleven year old girl, Dewe Kerrigan, who comes to I’ve with her scientist father on the Hill. Dewey is delighted to live in this math and science town as she gets to question famous scientists such as Enrico Fermi and Dick Feynman and scour the town dump for cast-offs for her mechanical projects built out of spare parts and ingenuity. However, Dewey’s scientific and mechanical interests make her something of a misfit with the other children in Los Alamos who call her “Screwy Dewy,” and when tragedy strikes, Dewey is not sure where she can turn for help.
The author makes some odd choices about verb tenses. The book starts out in third person, but told from Dewey’s point of view, in present tense, and continues that way for the first 37 pages. Then, it switches to third person, another girl named Suze’s point of view, past tense. The story alternates between Suze’s thoughts and feelings and Dewey’s, staying in past tense. Then later in the book, the author throws in a couple of pages here and there where we’re watching Dewey again, and her story is told in present tense again. I’m not sure what the point was. Maybe someone else can explain?
Such a great story, though. Dewey, and later the other main character, Suze, are very real characters with quirks and changes in attitude and demeanor throughout the book. There is some cursing in the dialogue in the book, which may bother some young readers, but it wasn’t overdone, just enough to be true to the times and the atmosphere. Suze’s mother smokes like a fiend, and the adults all indulge in the occasional beer or other alcoholic beverage of choice, again very true to life. I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters in this book, and I didn’t want it to end. So I’m glad to find out that there’s a sequel called White Sands, Red Menace. Dewey is a young lady I really want to know more.
Oh, and by the way, I loved the ending—very realistic in the characters’ obliviousness to the import of the news they hear on the radio about some place in Japan called Hiroshima.
Last year I read Michaela MacColl’s Nobody’s Secret, a mystery story for young adults set in Amherst, Massachusetts, 1846, and featuring a young Emily Dickinson as the protagonist and sleuth. MacColl’s latest novel, Always Emily, features a different literary Emily, Emily Bronte and her sister Charlotte as a mismatched but effective detective duo.
Emily and Charlotte are as different in character, personality, and appearance as it is possible for two sisters to be. On the first page of the novel the family is at a funeral. Charlotte sat “stiffly, her back perfectly straight.” Emily “fidgeted unconscionably.” Charlotte is later portrayed as bossy, prim, near-sighted and anxious. Emily, on the other hand, is wild, independent, outspoken, and undisciplined. The two sisters share only three things: a passionate nature, inquisitive intelligence, and a love for writing.
The two young women, ages 17 and 19 in the book, squabble and argue incessantly. And yet they manage to work together to solve a mystery and bring a miscreant to justice. I was impressed with the author’s ability to bring these two famous writers to life, along with their sometimes chaotic home life. The youngest Bronte sister, Anne, doesn’t play a part in Always Emily; she’s away on a visit. But their father the Reverend Bronte is very much present, as an indulgent father and a socially concerned pastor and counselor. The Bronte brother, Branwell, is already headed toward a weak and dissolute life in this story. And Tabitha, the young ladies’ Yorkshire cook, servant, and substitute mother-figure, rounds out the cast of characters who live in the Bronte household.
The mystery itself was somewhat slight, but it served as a vehicle for the characters to shine. Fans of the Brontes will enjoy the book, and some readers might become fans after reading about the two fiery and independent Bronte sisters. For a biography of the Brontes, try The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne by Catherine Reef, a Cybils finalist from last year. For more Bronte-related fiction, I recommend The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke. Ms. Clarke’s fantasy about the Brontes’ toy soldiers who come to life and try to return to the Bronte home in Yorkshire won the Carnegie Medal in 1962 (British title: The Twelve and the Genii). Of course, if you’re interested in direct exposure to the Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte, I also recommend either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, if you haven’t already read both. Like the sisters themselves, the two books are quite different, but each one is insightful and appealing in its own way.
If Catholicism perpetuates itself, why is it dead in Europe? It’s certainly doomed in Mexico, for the same reason it was doomed in Western Europe by 1970: People that are fundamentally hostile to everything the Christian faith are entirely in control of all the civic institutions which form children’s minds.
We like to make fun of fundamentalists for panicking about gay marriage, but there is one simple truth: If you can’t believe that chastity, fidelity, and continence are virtues, then you can’t believe in the Christian faith. Period. If you find yourself choking on the word “marriage” because you think it is fundamentally awful that the word has never included same-sex couples, you’re not long for the Church.
That would be fine, except that 90% of children spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, having their moral and intellectual character shaped by that. You can’t survive that kind of attrition rate.
It doesn’t matter what evangelicalism splits into, because those groups will be like the Amish: cultural oddities that are so tiny as to be relevant to no one and nothing.
I think the only thing that might save Christianity is that secular progressivism is a parasitic faith. It needs a particular kind of host civilization to feed on, a liberal one that already is founded on the idea that “equality” and “openness” and some kind of “tolerance” are moral, because it is based on a kind of reductio ad absurdum of those ideas. Progressives are like Shakers; they reproduce primarily via conversion, not procreation. Once they have finished converting everyone, they simply die out and are repopulated by some other civilization organized in a manner fundamentally hostile to its base ideas (generally one that the progressives enthusiastically imported). Progressivism feeds of liberalism, but it can’t sustain it.
People love to point back to Nero’s persecutions, but of course while Christianity took over pagan Rome, pagan Egypt, pagan Levant, and pagan Gaul, it accomplished no such thing in Muslim Arabia or any other Muslim land. And it never will, because unlike paganism, Islam has natural antibodies to Christianity. Roman paganism had no jihad principle.
Another option is that Western civilization will collapse into some kind of stable core in America that will rebuild. Europe, of course, is lost.
Christianity in America is/was/will-ever-be changing. We’re in the middle of it, and can’t see the endgame. We’ll still try to look ahead at where things are going, though. I’m sure I’m wrong, but what I see:
Mainlines won’t necessarily die off, but they’ll continue to free-fall. Those left will either end up in progressive social clubs (i.e. act like unitarians and the UCC) or leave for something new.
Evangelicalism is doomed, but their decline is far enough behind the mainlines that they don’t see it yet. They’re moving toward one of the following: Conservatives (Fundamentalists and Neo-Puritans), Charismatics (who will split into conservative and liberal factions), HappyFunBalls (Megas and Osteen-like), and something new.
Catholicism is a world-wide machine that will contine to perpetuate itself.
The Orthodox are a tiny movement that will continue to exist in some form.
Some Anglican derivatives will keep on keepin’ on, but many will drift to the mainline progressives or something new.
The nutjobs are always out there, and will continue. They will remain the media’s go-to examples for all of the above.
So what is the “something new?” I don’t know, but I think that some of the people who end up ther are the kind I’ll end up hanging with. That said, I’m no prophet, so I’ll try to follow Jesus while it all shakes out.
As for the tiresome conflict of ideologies between conservatives/progressives/etc., our culture constantly shifts and changes. As long as people keep chasing after human ideologies, they’ll continue to screw up societies. American conservativism is eating itself. Progressivism, especially the feminist contingent, is having its 15 minutes. Once its flaws start to have their effect, it’ll fail like everything else.
There is one thing that the churches experiencing historic revival have in common: they seemed overrun with the sense of the glory of God. They preached the gospel and the response was, as some describe, that “glory came down.”
Now that’s not something you can schedule. You can’t advertise it on the church signboard: “Every Sunday: Glory comes down.” But it is something we can aim for, yearn for, cast a vision for, desire, crave, proclaim. You can’t program the glory, but you can plead for it.
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)
No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.
We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.
I preached on the servant-hearted harmony and burden-bearing of Romans 15 to my church last Sunday, and one point I stressed is that we aren’t to strive for these things in order to become an impressive church. The exhortations of Paul in Romans 15:1-5 are there so “that together,” verse 6 reads, “you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I cast the vision over to Ephesians 1. Why has he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Why has he chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him? Why has he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will? Ephesians 1:6: “For the praise of his glorious grace.”
I took them to 1 Peter 2:9. Why did he make us a chosen race? Why did he make us a royal priesthood? Why did he makes us a holy nation? Why did he call us a people for his own possession? “That we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”
A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.
No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.
A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
– Romans 15:7
No, Victoria Osteen is not exactly right when she says we ought to do good for ourselves instead of for God, but neither is she totally wrong. She’s derailed and in the ditch, but the right track is in eyesight.
Osteen is not totally wrong, because walking with God is a — let the reader understand — happy thing. It’s a different kind of happy, to be sure. But it’s a happy thing nonetheless. Not happy-go-lucky. Not happy in moments or gifts. But happy in the Sovereign, in the Giver. George Whitefield preaches:
“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?” (Whitefield, Walking with God)
The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.
You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.
The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)
But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.
This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.
It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”
I really don’t feel much like writing much anymore, anywhere. The Social Justice Warriors are going to get everything they want. While we fret about being forced to host gay weddings, they’re already teeing up transexualism as the next civil rights crusade. I can’t wait for the first discrimination lawsuit to hit the courts because a guy in a dress asked out a normal guy, who told him “Sorry, I only date women.”
Europe’s deliberately sacrificing itself to the Islamic horde because they feel so incredibly guilty about existing. Britain can’t even bring itself to prosecute child sex slavers because they don’t want to offend Islam.
Oh, did I say something about Islam? Let’s add to it that no one is ever allowed to say anything about Islam that isn’t positively glowing. That’s why Islamic countries are such awfully nice, tolerant, peaceful places to live.
No one’s having kids because sex is fun and sterilizing ourselves is grand.
The NPV of the United States government’s liabilities is larger than the entire economy of the world.
I’m supposed to act like every man is a rapist and all rapes are every man’s fault, and this crime that is as old as the human race could be eliminated if only white males weren’t so mean, and if I don’t agree with that, I’m a “rape apologist.”
The President does things that make Nixon look like the Blessed Virgin Mary of Catholic myth, and no one cares.
Christianity in America’s going to die off.
I hate everything and everyone.
“I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!” –Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, played by William H. Macy, Magnolia
I used to think that I was
An empty jar
With my face turned upward
To wait for the sweetest wine
To fill me up and quench my thirst
But now I know
That I have been filled up
With water and carried to the desert
To give life to thirsty travelers
On their way to another country
And they will pour me out
Into cups and troughs
But they will keep dipping me
Into the coolest wells
They will wrap me up
So I will not break
And little did I know
That these were wandering princes
And high-born ladies
That this poor clay jar
Has the privilege to love
(This is a response to and a ruminating upon this article. I recommend it highly.)
It's not a coincidence that a fall-off in posting here has coincided with my wife and my youngest son's going off to college. This month, for the first time in 28 years, we don't have at least one son living at home with us. We're happy for our sons, of course, but getting used to an empty nest takes some mental and emotional adjustment. Apparently that means I don't have a lot of energy left over for blogging.
It's possible that my once again slacking off on blogging may disappoint both my regular readers, but I do plan to be back at it soon. Thanks again to both of you for visiting.
Royce Ogle reflects on the wrong way to pray:
Often we pray for God to change our circumstances. I have done it and you have too.
Meanwhile, God might have orchestrated your circumstances so he can change you. So, instead of asking for things to change so we can be happy, maybe we should ask, "Lord help me to see how I need to change in my present circumstances."Indeed. I recommend Royce's whole article.
I am not a big fan of using the blog to raise money for stuff, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know about an important missional opportunity in this New England region so many of my readers care deeply about.
I would like to introduce you to Redemption Church and invite you to partner with my church in Middletown Springs, Vermont as we seek to plant worship of our Savior in the burgeoning mission field of Rutland, Vermont.
Since my family’s arrival here in 2009, our church has seen a steady increase in mission-minded believers with a heart to plant a gospel-centered church in the downtown area of Rutland, Vermont, the largest town nearest us and the second largest town in the state.
Our church has more than doubled in the last 4 years, and we have already established a solid, mature, multi-generational core team in the city of Rutland that has already begun the work of community groups and evangelism. Our plan now, Lord willing, is to move from twice-monthly prayer gatherings to weekly “simple church” gatherings with the goal of launching public worship services for Redemption Church on Easter Sunday, 2015.
You are likely aware of the spiritual climate in New England generally and Vermont specifically, but to give you some perspective about the mission field in our area:
o The state of Vermont is regularly charted as the least-churched, least-religious state in our nation. There is roughly 1 church for every 5,000 people, and those churches are all over the map theologically.
o There are roughly 16,000 people in the city of Rutland proper and only 2% attend any church.
o There are approximately 5 evangelical churches not in decline in the greater Rutland area and there are none directly in downtown.
o There is a growing epidemic of poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and drug addiction in the city. $2 million in drugs is imported to VT daily. (The New York Times recently highlighted Rutland’s growing heroin problem.)
o While there are a few evangelical churches doing good work in our region, the need for gospel-centered missional churches is great.
Middletown Springs Church has been praying and planning toward our role in serving God’s work in this important mission field for years now, and we believe God would have us move forward now, sending our own Rutlanders out into their own community and launching an extension of our church, a “satellite campus” of sorts with its own elders, ministries, and vision. Until we have identified a lead planter to take over the work, I will be providing the primary preaching and leading.
Here’s where you come in: We need you to pray for this work. I am sending this to you because I know you have a heart for God’s mission in the world, including in the hardest regions of our own nation. Rutland fits the bill. Please pray for us. But you should also know that Middletown Church is still a small, rural congregation made up of folks with average resources employing a modest budget.
Our church has dedicated approximately 9% of our projected annual operating budget to fund this specific work. We are seeking to raise the remaining need to further God’s mission in the city. Can you help?
If your church or organization would feel led to serve our mission this way – either with regular financial support or in a one-time gift — you can contribute by making your contributions out to Middletown Springs Community Church, writing “Redemption Church Plant” in the MEMO portion* and sending them to:
Middletown Springs Community Church
PO Box 1213
Middletown Springs, VT 05757
We would be incredibly grateful if you could help in this way. Whether you are able to make this commitment or not, I’d be grateful if you would share this need with any family or church you think might be interested in partnering with us.
There is lots to share with you about our efforts here. If you’d like to know more about the church plant or mission in the region in general, please don’t hesitate to message me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com. We will also send regular updates on the work to all of our prayer and financial partners.
I hope you will understand I hate asking for money, and while God doesn’t need it, his servants in New England certainly do!
* (Alternatively, if you prefer electronic giving, you may use our church PayPal account email: mscchurch AT gmail DOT com. Please make sure to designate to Redemption Church Plant in the note section.)
Thanks for reading.
Nakedness is still considered (mostly) immodest today and people with good sense don’t let anybody but their spouse or their doctor see what they normally cover up, but in the biblical times, nakedness was considered extremely shameful. To see someone in their nakedness was an extreme violation, an act of disrespect, of dishonor.
Whether Ham sees his father on purpose or not, we can’t rightly say, but in any event he appears to find Noah’s shame amusing and he goes and tells his brothers, probably joking about it. He has an opportunity to cover his dad’s shame and instead he exposes him further.
What’s interesting about this event in the context of this passage is that Ham’s sin is treated as more serious than Noah’s. Noah has drunken himself into passing out — we’re not talking “getting buzzed” here, we’re talking about getting blacked-out drunk — but the emphasis of wrongdoing in the passage is on Ham for laughing about it.
This doesn’t mean that drunken exposure is not a sin. But it does seem to mean that denying a sinner grace is a bigger one. Couldn’t we say that Jesus certainly had harsher words for the outwardly tidy religious leaders of his day than the drunks? He told them all to “sin no more,” but he seemed to regard intentionally squandered opportunities to cover shame as somehow more heinous than (so-called) “sins of the flesh.”
We commit the sin of Ham whenever we hear of someone’s struggle, of sin, of failure, and instead of figuring out how to bring grace to them, we “run and tell.” We gossip. We pile on.
We should note that in all the Bible’s words about reproof and rebuke and discipline, the Bible never says to “confess one another’s sins.”
And Ham has capitalized on his father’s great vulnerability by heaping more shame on his shame.
But his brothers had more grace.
Genesis 9:23 reads, “Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
Some translations read “the garment,” indicating that this garment is the one Noah had with him in the tent, suggesting that Ham even further exposed Noah by taking it fully off and out of the tent with him. Almost as if Ham wanted his father’s shame exposed in order to enjoy it. (I wonder if there’s a lesson there for our tabloid culture and the spiritualized schadenfreude evident on Christian social media about those falling away.)
In any event, Shem and Japheth with the utmost care and reverence, go to cover their father. They do not treat his sin casually. But they do treat it with mercy.
It is possible Peter has this image in mind in 1 Peter 4:8 when he writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
This is what Christians do when confronted with the sins of others; they do what they would want done for them — not shaming, not ridiculing, not lording over — a demonstration of grace.
This doesn’t mean not mentioning someone’s sin or never confronting or rebuking or preaching against sin — it just means doing so with reverence for God and with grace, not to demean or squash or humiliate, but to provide the shelter of God’s love.
Roughly 20 lbs
About 30 inches
He's still in 9 month clothes right now, though I've started trying to stock up on 12 month stuff since he seems to be pretty snug in most things these days. I'm pretty sure by Fall he will officially be in 12 month clothes.
Buster, Bubba, Booger and Stinker. Now that he's getting more and more active I find myself using Booger and Stinker more often
We're finally back to a normal sleep schedule (praise the Lamb!). Recently I've been putting him down between 8:00 - 8:45 and he's been sleeping until 6:30-ish with one dream feed around 10:30 or 11:00. I know I need to drop the dream feed soon, but it's usually the only time I can steal some cuddles, so for now it stays!
All of the same foods as last month with the addition of spinach, broccoli, oatmeal, pumpkin and sweet potato puffs (similar to cheerios, but they dissolve and are much messier). Watching him eat broccoli was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He looked so betrayed and confused every time I tried to feed him another bite!
Army crawling, climbing over things, sweet potato puffs, licking/biting Junebug and getting tickled by Mom or Dad
We are getting more belly-laughs and he seems to be paying more attention when we are talking to him. I don't think he understands what we're saying yet, but he is definitely keying into the fact that we're talking to him! He's still army crawling EVERYWHERE and has recently started climbing over some of the barricades I've set up. Time for baby gates!
This may make me a terrible Mom, but this broccoli video takes the cake...
We had a couple of really cranky days last week that were rough on everybody (especially Mama and Junebug ). Thankfully it passed quickly and Deacon is back to his happy-go-lucky self!
- When Deacon gets in a really good mood pretty much anything can make him laugh. We had a blast the other day in Walmart when he decided that saying "hi!" over and over again was the funniest thing I'd ever done!
- Last Sunday Deacon moved up a room in the church nursery. He is now officially a Platypus and this Mama can't handle it! I just kept getting flashes of him going to kindergarten and then college. *sniff* It's all happening so quickly!!
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
– Ruth 4:9-10
Boaz is that rare man who does things because God is real (Ruth 3:13). So behind and within all of his provision and care for Ruth is the desire to glorify God. We see this even in his expressed motivation upon winning Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand from the redeemer with first dibs. He says he has purchased them to perpetuate the names of dead relatives. Clearly Boaz is a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1) and not just in the sense of financial means.
Were it not for Boaz’s larger-than-self vision, we would not have the story of Ruth. Her faithfulness, her commitment, her optimism, her submission are to her praise and God’s, but Boaz’s faithfulness — his full-of-faith-ness — in redeeming her puts her on the map. Against the dark backdrop of the book of Judges’ lawless grotesqueries, in which every man did what was right in his own eyes, Boaz shines with the predawn radiance of God’s glory in Christ.
Do you know the name of the kinsman redeemer first in line?
In Ruth 4:1, Boaz calls him “friend,” and the Hebrew behind that word roughly translates to “so and so.” Whether his reasons for passing on Ruth were good or bad, old so-and-so’s name is not perpetuated. But we know who Elimelech, Mahlon, Naomi, and Ruth are because Boaz honored them by honoring God.
And because Boaz honored them by honoring God, his own name is perpetuated, and his son’s, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son, and so on until the lot of them spill into Matthew 1, and what we learn there is that Boaz has redeemed Naomi’s plot of land and Ruth’s widowed hand in order to perpetuate the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
And this is why any of us are redeemed: not just so that we’d be personally forgiven and fulfilled, but so that God’s name and Christ’s lordship would be magnified in every nook and cranny of our lives spreading into every square inch of the world until we spill into the life and world to come. We are redeemed for his namesake and to perpetuate his name (Malachi 1:11).
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake . . .
– Ezekiel 20:44
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
– Ephesians 5:31-32
Among the many riches and depths of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5 are these two:
1) Marriage is meant to make us holy more than happy (all apologies to Gary Thomas).
2) Happiness and romance are byproducts of a healthy marriage, but the ultimate purpose of marriage is the magnification of Christ.
Therefore, if we want a gospeled marriage, we will take to heart what God is saying here about husbands and wives and one-fleshedness and sacrifice and submission and respect and cherishing. Because God knows what he’s talking about. He designed the thing. And it’s not like he didn’t anticipate all the reasons we’d come up with to explain why these admonitions don’t exactly apply to our situations. Like, we all know we’re married to sinners, but couldn’t have God given us a, you know, less sinny sinner to be married to?
But this is exactly what marriage is for. This is what the marriage vows are for. You don’t really even need that “for better” stuff in there, that “in richness” and “in health” stuff. Nobody in their right mind is bailing during the good times. No, the vows are for the other stuff. “For worse.” “In poverty.” “In sickness.” The vows exist because sin is real. Sure, we may not know what sins will become real in our relationships, putting stress on the covenant, but the vows exist because sin does.
The vow of the gospel exists because sin does.
See, the story of Christ and his bride is very messy. Very difficult. It is a sordid history, to be sure. One of the most vivid illustrations we get is that of the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to take a prostitute for a wife. And she keeps cheating on him and prostituting herself, Hosea stays faithful through all the pain, the heartache, the dishonor, the confusion. He stays faithful. Why? Because God had joined them together. And because God in his astounding wisdom and artistry was showing Hosea – and us – what it is like for Christ to love his church.
When we stand at the altars making our vows, we really don’t think the bad will be that bad. We expect sin but not that kind. But our holy bridegroom Jesus Christ makes his vow knowing full well what he’s forgiving. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we’re guilty of and what we will be guilty of. He knows just how awful it’s going to get.
Every day, you and I reject the holiness of Jesus in a million different ways, only a fraction of which are we conscious of. If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, “Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time.” The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus. He’s carrying the entire relationship on his back. This thing is totally one-sided.
And yet: He loves. And he gives. And he serves. And he approves. And he washes. And he delights. And he romances. And he doesn’t just tolerate us; he lavishes his affection on us. He justifies and sanctifies and glorifies.
I don’t know what you come away from Ephesians 5:22-33 thinking. Maybe you read it and think, “Sacrifice? Submit? No way. I can’t do this.”
Husbands are thinking, “I cannot sacrifice for her.”
Wives are thinking, “I cannot submit to him.”
And we can’t — at least, not the way God wants us to.
God knows this. He knows we are terrible obeyers. He knows we are self-interested sacrificers and stubborn submitters. And he gave up his life for us anyway. He died to forgive all our sins and rose again that we might never have them held against us.
Be still, our beating hearts. Here’s a groom worth swooning over.
I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
– Ezekiel 16:62-63
… for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God . . .
– from Acts 5:38-39
It has been asked in a variety of ways from the outside and the inside since the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” tribe hit the threshold of unignorable visibility: Can this movement be sustained? Is it just a fad? What are your concerns, fears, and cautions for this subculture? (Aren’t they really just “Together 4 Calvinism?”)
Only God knows.
Whether one sees the tumult of the last few years as growing pains or death throes probably depends on what one is hoping for.
The internal squabbles and the external accusations.
The debating and the excluding and the parting of ways.
The scandals, the sins.
These could all mean the tribe is on its way to the dustbin of history, a “flash in the pan” as they say. Or it could be a great settling, a great sanctifying, a great re-reforming around Jesus.
My prayer as we sort out a lot of our junk is that the great settling I’m seeing throughout the tribe — the growing up, the looking up to the older and wiser and gentler, the increasing self-reflection, the spreading quietness, all of it — will be its strengthening. Yes, Lord, let the settling be a strengthening.
May we lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and may we run with endurance the race that is set before us. May we actually, truly, for the growth of the church and the joy of the world and the glory of Christ be gospel-centered.
When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
– Genesis 9:16-17
The rainbow was thus marked as the sign of God’s promise not to visit wrath on the earth by way of the flood. But it is bigger than that, isn’t it? The rainbow is another sign of God’s promise to remove his wrath from his children.
The Hebrew word for “bow” in this text is the exact same Hebrew word used for the kind of bow one uses in battle, as in the ol’ “bow and arrow.” What God is talking about in this promise is that he is laying his weapons down.
In his commentary, Marcus Dods writes:
They accepted it as a sign that God has no pleasure in destruction, that he does not give way to moods, that he does not always chide, that if weeping may endure for a night joy is sure to follow. If any one is under a cloud, leading a joyless, heartless life, if any one has much apparent reason to suppose that God has given him up to catastrophe, and lets things run as they may, there is some satisfaction in reading this natural emblem and recognizing that without the cloud, nay, without the cloud breaking into heavy sweeping rains there cannot be the bow, and that no cloud of God’s sending is permanent, but will one day give place to an unclouded joy.
We keep seeking peace, peace, where there is no peace, and we only find our true lasting eternal joy-saturated peace when it comes by the Spirit of God straight from Father God in the gospel of the Son of God. It is in Christ Jesus’ work that we see that God “lays down his bow.”
And we can keep seeking peace even in God’s good gifts — work, family, recreation, food, art and culture, the great outdoors — but we can’t find the peace that endures forever until we find it in the gospel. Because cultivation and justice, while ordained by God, are administered by man and therefore can never truly satisfy.
But the covenant of grace is administered by God himself. So when we seek peace there, we truly find it. It’s not tainted by sin because God is holy and his Son is sinless.
And until we find peace in the gospel, in fact, we find only the search for peace and therefore no peace at all: “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked” (Is. 57:21).
But for the Christian? “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Is. 26:3).
I love this excerpt from John Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”:
One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. “There,” I said, “is my righteousness!” So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, “Where is your righteousness?” For it is always right before him.
I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.
Indeed, Ephesians 2:14 says “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
The rainbow, then, is a sign of God’s promise that he has hung up his bow, and it’s a reminder to himself of his grace toward the earth, and in the same way, the cross is a sign of God’s promise that he has hung his Son up to die and it’s a reminder of his grace toward you that because Christ has taken the wrath, the wrath is taken. It is over, done, finished, removed, satisfied, propitiated.
At the cross of Christ, the wrath of God owed to sinners is absorbed, satisfied, set aside for all eternity. Dead and done with. His anger is gone, his love remains and it endures. The lovingkindness of our Lord is everlasting. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning.
Every day you mess up, and maybe you fess up, but you’re even messing up in your fessing up. But God’s love is constant, always forgiving, always covering, always sustaining, always sourcing real peace deep inside.
Maybe you need to hear this today: Christian, God isn’t angry with you. His smile is over you. Zephaniah 3:17 says he “rejoices over you with gladness; he quiets you by his love; he exults over you with loud singing.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
(Apply directly to the forehead.)
Because Christ has come to take the condemnation, he takes it away into the wilderness and casts it into the void, and his precious blood is given as a covering for you; it speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, because while Abel’s blood cried out for the justice we keep seeking, Jesus’ blood cries out that justice has been accomplished. Every sin of yours — past present and future — has been accounted for and paid for, and now that the gospel takes dominion in your heart, it bears fruit and multiplies from one degree of glory to another, in mercy after mercy, precisely because we have received Christ himself and John 1:16 says that from his fullness we all received “grace upon grace.” There is a radiant kaleidoscope of blessings in the gospel.
We can breathe. We can wipe our brow. We can unclench our fists. God has laid down his bow.
- Hi, blog readers. Sorry. Again.
- Things I have been up to: Reading (but that’s a given by now, I hope), writing some stuff here and there that is not yet fit for public consumption, thinking about writing stuff but not actually doing it because my brain hurts (more on that later), watching the news (which, in the past few weeks, has been both a terrible and a great idea–more on that later, too), planning a party, watching way too many YouTube videos, and, well, recovering from pneumonia.
- Yeah, pneumonia…I was wicked sick for a couple of weeks (!) and was dealing with things like 104* fevers and not being able to take deep breaths and coughing up green things. Oh, and weird medicinal side effects, too.
- It’s very interesting, though, because my being forced to slow down and not do a whole lot except read the news and watch YouTube and movies means, well, God finally got hold of my attention and pointed out all the ways that I’d become really self-centered and self-righteous and, as a result, I became really awful at loving Him and other people well. This is not a particularly fun revelation to receive, but it was very, very good at the same time, because with it came the recognition that I am also really terrible at receiving grace, both in forgiveness and in the help that God gives us in fighting our self-centeredness and self-righteousness. And then, the understanding that it’s okay to receive grace–more than that, God really, really wants me to, because in doing so I am receiving Him, which is why He’s been after me from eternity past in the first place. Which is all to say, I want to please God, not just because I love Him, but because He has loved me to the uttermost and wants to help me to please Him.
- ^ That was utterly rambly and repetitive. Did I mention the part about my brain hurting? My body is not exactly efficient at oxygen absorption and usage (freaking lungs not working properly…), so I mostly just have the ramble lately. But you get what I mean, right? I hope so.
- Okay, so the news: If nothing else, the past few weeks have gotten us talking about mental health, power (and the abuse thereof), race and privilege, and persecution of the Middle Eastern church. We still have so far to go, so much to talk about, so much reconciliation and forgiveness and trust to be had. We cannot love one another if we don’t at least try to understand each other, and even if we come out disagreeing, we can at least hear each other’s stories and experiences and try to know one another as people, not ideas. As my brother–my Christian brother, my fellow adopted one of the Father’s children, which makes him my kindred in ways that are deeper than race and gender and even denominational lines–as my brother put it in an interview on NPR, all of this “is a human issue.” We have to care for and shepherd one another through all these things.
- Whew, that was a lot.
- And if nothing else, the last few weeks have taught me that we are frail. We are weak. And it is in our weakness that God proves His strength; it is when we are in crisis that, somehow, by grace, we learn how badly and how deeply we need Him. And it is in our desperation that we realize how much He meets that need–not just with His blessing, but with Himself, and that is what we need most. My church, or at least pockets in my church (who knows, it may be more than I know about) have been talking about revival, and asking God for it to happen, and recognizing it when it does happen. Very frequently, revival is birthed of crisis, sometimes pain, but always in a people who cry out to God for help. May it happen in our day, and in our hearts. (And by the way, I would commend to you Tim Keller’s speaking on revival: here, here, and here, and probably some other places too, if you Google “Tim Keller revival,” which sounds like the name of a terrible band.)
VotM Persecution Blog has a helpful post on five truths to keep in mind as IS advances in Iraq. I like these two the best:
2. God always finds a way to encourage, grow, and build His church. He's just looking for those willing to count the cost. . . .Amen.
5. The battle is already decided.
Have you read the Book of Revelation? We know who will ultimately win the battle—the Lord Jesus Christ. Until that day, when Jesus makes His final return to take His rightful place, you can stand with your persecuted family by choosing to fellowship with them through your prayers and actions.
I don't know how to link to single entries on Dave Black's weblog, but his 8/14/14, 8:20 a.m. entry on marriage and the recent loss of his own wife is very much worth reading, even if you have to do some scrolling or searching to find it.
Peter Leithart gives a concise explanation of the symbolism and context of Revelation 12.
Jim McGuiggan has a way of packing a lot of meaning into his weekly reflections. This week's essay shines light on the OT world, especially in relation to Genesis 1 & 2:
The business of the biblical witness is not to tell us about the historical, cultural, religious, political or literary climate of the day though in the process of doing what it does it reveals a lot of that.Jim's little essay is loaded with insights, and I recommend reading the whole thing.
For example, Genesis 1 & 2 sets itself against its environment in which the gods of the nations whose stories are told in the Enuma Elish or the Baal Cycle or the many myths of Sumeria and Egypt. In the Bible God as God has no mythology—he isn’t created, he doesn’t war against other gods to become the chief god nor does he die or be killed and somehow come to life again. Stories like that occur in the mythology of the polytheistic world to explain their experience with nature.