- D.A. Carson
Note from CM: Today is Memorial Day in the United States. I can think of no better way to honor and memorialize those who have given their lives in service to our country than to re-post this recent brilliant speech that speaks to “the better angels of our nature” as Americans. Here is the full text of the remarks delivered May 19, 2017 by the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, upon his removal of the last of the city’s several Confederate monuments.
• • •
Thank you for coming.
The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way — for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans — the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando De Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.
You see — New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling caldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.
And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame… all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.
For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.
The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears… I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us. And make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago — we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.
Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history… on a stone where day after day for years, men and women… bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”
A piece of stone — one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today… for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights… I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race.
I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.
And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.
This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and yes with violence.
To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.
And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the essential truth. We are better together than we are apart.
Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.
All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it! And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say ‘wait’/not so fast, but like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.
No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.
Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.
He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride… it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is and it is long overdue. Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.
A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.
We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history — after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces… would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?
We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all… not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in… all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.
After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed. So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.
Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.” So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.
The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.
Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish — a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
• • •
Other commentary on this speech:
Today is the birthday of Virginia Cary Hudson (b.1894, d.1954)
I was never sure whether Virginia Cary Hudson actually wrote these humorous essays when she was only ten years old, or whether that was the fictional framework for a series of rather insightful (for a ten year old) essays that manage to make me laugh even when I read them over again at my ripe old age of 59.
Wikipedia says of Ms. Hudson’s age and authorship:
“As a 10-year-old in Versailles, Kentucky, she wrote a series of charming essays that were kept in a scrapbook by her mother, Jessie Gregory Hudson. Her daughter Virginia Cleveland Mayne copied the essays in the spring of 1952 before a disastrous attic fire destroyed the originals in October 1952. Virginia succeeded in publishing the essays with the Macmillan Company as O Ye Jigs and Juleps! The book reached the New York Times Bestseller List for 66 weeks and sold over a million copies.”
I really find it hard to believe that these chapters are the unedited work of a ten year old girl.
Here’s a sample, the first chapter called “Sacraments”, read by Terri Lackey:
I found a brand-new looking paperback copy of O Ye Jigs and Juleps at the used bookstore, and since my old copy is bedraggled and torn, I thought I’d bring it home for my library. This edition is illustrated by Karla Kuskin, the prolific children’s author, poet, and illustrator of one of my favorite picture books,
A few quotes to brighten your day:
“Etiquette is what you are doing and saying when people are looking and listening. What you are thinking is your business.”
“I asked Mrs. Harris when we were plaiting rags for her kitchen rug what good Marco Polo would ever do me, and Mrs. Harris said education gave you satisfaction, but I had rather be ignorant and have fun than be educated and have satisfaction.”
“Most of the things you get, somebody dies so you can get it, but you have to die your own self to get Everlasting Life.”
“When you stroll you never hurry back, because if you had anything to do, you wouldn’t be strolling in the first place.”
“O ye Sun and Moon, oh ye beans and roses, oh ye jigs and juleps, Bless ye the Lord, Praise Him and Magnify Him Forever.”
The Jigs and Juleps Girl! Virginia Cary Hudson: Her Life and Writings by (grandaughter) Beverly Kienzie was self-published last year (2016). I suppose I could read it to find out for sure if young Ms. Hudson was as precocious as these essays make her out to be.
Here is another batch of answers to questions I’ve received as part of my Ask Me Anything series. I hope you find them helpful!
Would you consider updating the Porn-Free Family Plan? My wife and I have three small children, and this is something we would like to implement early. The principles laid out in the plan are solid, but I’d like to know about any new tools I haven’t heard of. I’m aware of Circle, but I wonder if there are any other new tools that have come available in the last 3 years.
Yes, I suppose I should update it. While it remains a solid plan just as I laid it out, Circle has changed the game at least a little bit. We love our Circle device and find it a helpful supplement to the plan.
In general, I would say this: Circle is sufficient for a family with young children and a family where there are no known struggles with pornography or other inappropriate online activities. It does its job very well in these situations. As the device and its app mature, the developers are constantly adding new features that have only enhanced its value. We love Circle for its bedtime functionality, for its ability to turn off Netflix after a certain amount of time has elapsed, and for providing a basic history of activities.
For families with older children, and especially families where there are known struggles with pornography or other inappropriate content, I believe the fully Porn-Free Family Plan should still be implemented, and especially Covenant Eyes. It adds abilities that are beyond the feature set of Circle.
I have a question in response to your article “3 Reasons Children Need to Obey Their Parents,” and your series on “The Commandment We Forgot.” In the series, you mention moments when we are called to honor (not obey) when our parents are in direct disobedience to God’s will and authority over us. My question is, how should this principle come into play with non-Christian parents, especially for children who are not yet “adults” themselves, but in the teenage, college, and young adult years? I am a Student Pastor at a predominantly Chinese Church, and this is a big topic of discussion in shepherding our teens in our Youth and College ministries, but also amongst the many Young Adults who are not married. To what extent are they to obey and honor their parents, even if they are from non-believing homes? Is obedience required for minors (teenagers especially) even when their parents are prohibiting them from attending church, joining mission trips, or obeying God through the act of baptism? I face cases like this quite often in my ministry to Asian-American Youth and Young Adults, so I’m curious as to what your answer might be.
I have the privilege of serving a multicultural church in the world’s most culturally diverse city, so I have encountered questions very much like these ones. Because I am not aware of the specifics of your situations, I can only speak broadly. But I hope it still proves helpful.
The authority of parents is not an absolute or self-existing authority, but one that is conferred. God has ultimate authority and delegates it to parents. Thus parents are to exercise God’s authority on his behalf. They are to lead or rule only in ways consistent with his Word. They have no right to demand what God does not demand or to expect what God does not expect.
Well and good for Christian parents who submit to the authority of the Word. But what about non-Christian parents? This is where it gets tricky and often very painful. While we want to honor parents and encourage young people to submit to their authority, there are times when obedience to parents is unwise or even unbiblical.
I think we need to distinguish between some of the examples you have given. Baptism is a necessary step of obedience for a Christian and a parent has no authority to say, “You may not be baptized.” Thus a believing teen can in good conscience defy her parents and be baptized. In this case she is not actually being disobedient because she is appealing to and obeying the higher authority. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Church attendance is necessary for spiritual growth and health, and, again, a parent has no authority to say, “You may not attend.” I believe it would not be disobedient for a young Christian to go to church against his parent’s wishes. Of course he may face tough consequences and have to make difficult decisions. I’ve even known young people to be told by their parents that they have to choose: Faith or family.
When it comes to mission trips and youth groups, we have come to a different matter since these things are not commanded in the same way as baptism and church attendance. They may be good and enjoyable, but they are not necessary. If parents refuse to allow their children to attend a mission trip, I would be very unlikely to encourage them to defy their parents on that matter.
In general, I would encourage young believers to submit to the authority of their parents whenever it would not be sinful to do so. And in every case, I would want those young believers to appeal to the elders of the local church for their wisdom, their prayers, and their support.
Do you have any resources, or would you write on, how to study a book of the Bible? I don’t mean the mechanics of Christotellic interpretation, I mean the method and mechanics of studying a book of the Bible devotionally, over a few months. Should I be speed reading the entire book (for me, Ecclesiastes) every couple days, while camping out on particular verses with a commentary? How should I balance the 10,000 foot view with the minutia, and how should I do that over a number of months while remaining devotional and gospel-centered?
There is no one right method for studying the Bible. In fact, I believe we do best when we vary our methods. There is great value in reading an entire book in a sitting. I’ve often heard John MacArthur advocate reading an entire book every day for a month. There is also great value in reading books very slowly and meditatively, pausing often to linger on individual sentences and even words.
So I would shy away from the “should” language you’ve used. “Should” implies some level of moral obligation, and I’m not convinced you’re into such an area here. The only “should” is in reading the Bible at all. Rather, I’d follow your desires and inclinations. Read a book through a number of times, then perhaps take a few days or weeks to study the first chapter. Then read it through a few more times and advance to the second chapter. Listen to sermons on the text or read a good commentary. Mix it up and find what keeps you learning and engaged.
Speaking personally, my daily reading plan takes me through the Bible in a year, based on five readings per week. Because of the quantity of reading, I need to move pretty quickly. This plan helps me gain and maintain familiarity with the Bible’s big story. Then, as I’m able or inclined, I study individual books or passages, going deep into them and making personal application. At least for my life at this stage, that seems to be an appropriate mix.
If a church’s typical worship service is missing some of the elements you list in “The Whole Christian Life Every Sunday,” do you think that is a legitimate reason for a member to look for another church? I attend a large evangelical church that preaches the gospel faithfully and has a high view of scripture. But our worship service is missing several of the elements you discuss in your article, and generally feels like a concert with a 20-minute intermission for a sermon. I long to worship in a church that makes confession, assurance of pardon, and frequent communion components of Sunday morning services. But I wonder if this desire just amounts to personal preference. Would it be wrong or misguided for me to leave my church over practices that are good but not necessarily essential?
It’s hard to say based on what you’ve told me. But I want to say that a church is not necessarily being disobedient or unbiblical if they do not have each of these elements, and especially if they do not have all of them every week. Different Christians have come to different understandings of what the Bible requires or recommends when it comes to worship services. Different cultures and traditions structure their services in different ways, and I am convinced we have that kind of latitude from God.
But with that said, not all worship services are equal. Especially in North America, we have a large number of churches that are structured pragmatically. The leaders of those churches are not too concerned about what the Bible says we ought to include in our services but instead with what elements seem to deliver a desired effect. This usually means that significant Scripture readings and prayer go missing. So, too, do times of confession and assurance. Soon the worship services are stripped down to music and topical preaching.
When considering whether or not to remain at a church, I think I would want to consider how the leaders of that church have come to their decisions on the elements they include and don’t include. What theology lies behind the services? If it is clear that they are committed to pragmatic principles, that might be a good reason to consider whether this church is truly set on honoring God in its worship. If it is clear that they are approaching the services thoughtfully and with a genuine desire to please God and serve his people, I would be far less likely to consider moving on.
Thank you for your, “The Whole Christian Life Every Sunday” article. Regarding scripture reading, do you think that a reading of the passage that will be preached on is sufficient to fulfill this requirement or should there be additional portions of scripture read?
The Bible tells us that reading Scripture must be a component of our worship services. Paul told Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture…” (1 Timothy 4:13). If a church has no Scripture-reading, it is not obeying God in this matter. But the Bible does not mandate how much Scripture we read or how many separate readings there are. This means we are free to exercise wisdom.
It is my understanding that churches traditionally read the Scripture passage that would form the basis of the text and then also read an additional or supporting passage from the opposite Testament. So if the sermon was to be on The Sermon on the Mount, that text would be included in the service and there would also be a relevant passage from the Old Testament. Alternatively, a church preaching through Exodus, might simply read through a series of New Testament book one chapter per week in order to ensure people were hearing from the whole Bible. Either model strikes me as both wise and effective.
At Grace Fellowship Church we always read the text that will form the basis of the sermon. Additionally, we almost invariably have a second reading that is most often taken from the opposite Testament. This may be related to the sermon or it may be related to the theme of the service. We typically also have other short passages that appear as a call to worship, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, benediction, and so on. We believe in the necessity and the value of ensuring our services are drenched in Scripture. Perhaps I can share our orders of service from time to time to give at least model of how we structure our services.
I was wondering if you could clarify the principles of how to apply the biblical commands or exhortations originally given to specific individuals to our own lives. An example would be Jeremiah 16:2 versus Jeremiah 29:11. A lot of people quote Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage others but what in principle precludes applying Jeremiah 16:2 to our own lives?
That’s a great question. We see many people who grab verses or promises out of the Bible and apply them in a way that does not properly account for their context. While the Bible is given for all people in all times and places, that does not mean its words can be used willy-nilly.
Here’s an important rule to ensure the Bible is being properly interpreted: Before you ask, “What does it mean to us now?”, ask “What did it mean to them then?” Contemporary application cannot be separated from original intent. Before we can apply a text to our own lives, we have to understand what that text meant to the original recipients. In the case of Jeremiah 29:11, we see that the promises were given to a specific group of people and that they were premised on a specific form of obedience. Thus we cannot simply grab those promises and say, “God says to you, ‘I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’.” We cannot say that because he doesn’t say that to us. Not directly.
That’s not to say we cannot be comforted and encouraged by those words. God reveals his character through them and the love he had for his covenant people is the same love he has for us. He really does have plans for us, and they are plans for welfare rather than harm. He does give us a future and a hope. But where all of that was premised on Israel’s obedience to God, for us it comes through Christ. We can still gain encouragement and application from verses like Jeremiah 29:11, but we must first interpret them correctly. I’ve written about this before in the articles 1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s and One Indispensable Rule.
His name was known around the world. Crowds flocked to his church to hear him preach, and everywhere else people devoured the printed editions of his sermons. When he died, 60,000 admirers filed past his casket and 100,000 lined his funeral route. Even today, people visit his grave to pay tribute. Even more read his books and are inspired by his sermons. Yet before Charles Spurgeon was The Prince of Preachers, he was a young boy in the arms of a godly mother. Amid all his success and all his fame, he would not forget his first and best instructor. “I cannot tell,” he said, “how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.” As his brother would say, “She was the starting point of all the greatness and goodness any of us, by the grace of God, have ever enjoyed.”
In this article in the series “Christian Men and Their Godly Moms,” we turn to another mother who was the most formative spiritual influence on her young son, a mother who would teach and train her son while pleading for his soul. In her we see the power of a pleading mother.
A Praying, Watching Mother
Charles Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834, in Essex, England, the first child of John and Eliza. Eliza had been born and raised in nearby Belchamp Otten, and though little is known of her younger days, we do know she married early, for she was only 19 when she gave birth to Charles. John, like his father before him, was a bi-vocational, Independent pastor who worked as a clerk through the week to support his ministry on the weekends. His work and ministry often took him away from home and left Eliza in charge of the children. And there were many children! Eliza gave birth to 17, though nine would die in infancy.
Shortly after Charles was born, he went to live with his grandparents, presumably because Eliza was struggling with a difficult pregnancy or with a tiny infant. He remained there until he was 4 or 5, then returned home, though throughout his childhood he would continue to enjoy long visits with his grandparents. There he had access to a great library that sparked a lifelong love for reading, and there he listened in on theological debates and began to develop understanding and convictions. He gained a special fondness for the works of the Puritans and, at age 6, he read The Pilgrim’s Progress for the first of what would eventually total hundreds of times.
When he had returned to his family, he was an older brother to three siblings, and it was time for him to begin his education. It was also during this time that his mother became his most formative spiritual influence. Though Charles was outwardly well-behaved, he was precociously aware of his deep depravity. “As long as ever I could,” he later said, “I rebelled, and revolted, and struggled against God. When He would have me pray, I would not pray, and when He would have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied Him to melt my soul. But long before I began with Christ, He began with me.”
Christ began with him through the attentive ministry of his mother. Because John was so busy with his work and so often engaged in caring for the souls of his congregation, much of the responsibility of parenting fell to Eliza. Though this concerned John and at times left him feeling guilty, one experience assured him that his children were in good hands. During a time of busyness, he cut short his ministry to return home. “I opened the door and was surprised to find none of the children about the hall. Going quietly upstairs, I heard my wife’s voice. She was engaged in prayer with the children; I heard her pray for them one by one by name. She came to Charles, and specially prayed for him, for he was of high spirit and daring temper. I listened till she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, ‘Lord, I will go on with Thy work. The children will be cared for.’”
Some of Charles’s earliest memories are of his mother gathering the children to read the Bible to them and to plead with them to turn to Christ. To her children she was not only a teacher, but an evangelist.
It was the custom on Sunday evenings, while we were yet little children, for her to stay at home with us, and then we sat round the table, and read verse by verse, and she explained the Scripture to us. After that was done, then came the time of pleading; there was a little piece of Alleine’s Alarm, or of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, and this was read with pointed observations made to each of us as we sat round the table; and the question was asked, how long it would be before we would think about our state, how long before we would seek the Lord. Then came a mother’s prayer, and some of the words of that prayer we shall never forget, even when our hair is grey.
In these prayers, she pleaded with God to extend his saving mercy to her children. Charles remembered that on one occasion she prayed in this way: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” The thought of his own mother bearing witness against him pierced his soul and stirred his heart. Her intercession made such a deep impression on her young son that many years later he would write, “How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come?” Another time she wrapped her arms around his neck and simply cried to God, “Oh, that my son might live before Thee!” The deepest desire of her heart was to see her children embrace her Savior.
But still Charles did not turn to Christ. From the ages of 10 to 15, he would fret and labor over the state of his soul. He knew of his sinfulness but knew no forgiveness; he knew of his rebellion but had no confidence in his repentance. He read the works of history’s great pastors and theologians but found no relief. And then, one snowy Sunday morning, he was drawn to a tiny Primitive Methodist chapel where a simple pastor took up the text, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” “Young man, look to Jesus Christ!” he cried. “Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” The simplicity of the message was just what Charles needed, for now he understood that God was not calling him to do but to believe. And he did. He put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Soon after, he wrote a letter to his mother in which he expressed his enthusiasm and his gratitude. He paid tribute to her for being his foremost teacher and for being the one who had so often begged God for the gift of salvation. “Your birthday will now be doubly memorable, for on the third of May the boy for whom you have so often prayed, the boy of hopes and fears, your first-born, will join the visible Church of the redeemed on earth, and will bind himself doubly to the Lord his God, by open profession. You, my Mother, have been the great means in God’s hand of rendering me what I hope I am. Your kind, warning Sabbath-evening addresses were too deeply settled on my heart to be forgotten. You, by God’s blessing, prepared the way for the preached Word and for that holy book, The Rise and Progress. I have any courage, if I feel prepared to follow my saviour, not only into the water, but should He call me, even into the fire, I love you as the preacher to my heart of such courage, as my praying, watching Mother.”
Spurgeon would soon become The Boy Preacher and The Prince of Preachers. First thousands and then tens of thousands would flock to hear his sermons. Soon his sermons would be transcribed and sent across the world. Over the course of his life, he would preach to millions. He would receive the attention and accolades of presidents and princes yet owe it all to a mother whose first and greatest audience was her own family. In one of his early sermons, Spurgeon paid tribute to her in this way: “There was a boy once—a very sinful child—who hearkened not to the counsel of his parents. But his mother prayed for him, and now he stands to preach to this congregation every Sabbath. And when his mother thinks of her firstborn preaching the Gospel, she reaps a glorious harvest that makes her a glad woman.”
Eliza was a glad woman who reaped a glorious harvest because she had been faithful. The first and great duty of her motherhood was the spiritual care of her children, and she had applied herself to that responsibility. She had taught her children God’s Word, she had prayed for their souls, and she had pleaded with them to turn to Christ. She had earned her son’s praise: “Never could it be possible for any man to estimate what he owes to a godly mother.”
To learn more about Charles Spurgeon, I recommend Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore, Living by Revealed Truth by Tom Nettles, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon by W.Y Fullerton. The information for this article was drawn primarily from those resources.
Today’s Kindle deals include a classic, a book on motherhood, and a couple of others.
This one is long but very interesting. “You see, one of the biggest fears among evangelical middle class Christians in these increasingly confusing and hostile times in the public square, is the fear of not being considered sensible. And Margaret Court is proving anything but sensible.”
Gabriel Williams describes his experience as a Christian professor in the secular academy.
I agree with Denny Burk and Jonathan Leeman that this area of privilege is one we need to think about deeply. “The thinking goes like this. If a person possesses a privileged identity (e.g., straight, male, abled, etc.), that person benefits from an unjust system of social privilege. Therefore, the person benefitting is morally guilty of injustice just by virtue of possessing the so-called privileged identity.”
When Fred Sanders writes about the Trinity, it’s always worth reading.
Jon Bloom: “The most powerful weapon against sexual impurity is humility. Patterns of sinful thought and behavior are fruits of a deeper root. If we want to stop bearing bad fruit, we must aim our primary attack against the root. And the root of sexual sin is not our sex drive; it’s pride.”
Yes, colors. “When radium was first discovered, its luminous green color inspired people to add it into beauty products and jewelry. It wasn’t until much later that we realized that radium’s harmful effects outweighed its visual benefits. Unfortunately, radium isn’t the only pigment that historically seemed harmless or useful but turned out to be deadly.”
I love home. “Whether you are a child learning to read, a freshman in a dormitory, newlyweds settling into a first apartment, an upstart launching a career, a family with a quiver full of children, or a widow navigating life without a spouse, the comfort of home is a stabilizing reality of life.”
The temptation to sin is inevitable when you are a sinful person living in a sinful world. But the actual committing of sin is by no means inevitable when you are made a saint through Christ Jesus. Learn to speak truth, God’s truth, to every temptation.
I’m grateful to Midwestern College for sponsoring the blog this week!
In Christianity, the answer to bad theology can never be no theology. It must be good theology. —Bruce Shelley
“Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.” ~Will Schwalbe
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.
Good writing. Disturbing story. That’s Pete Brassett’s The Girl from Kilkenny.
It’s not a mystery. It’s one of those stories where you watch a metaphorical train wreck going on, waiting for the moment when somebody will identify the problem and stop it.
Nancy McBride showed up at the Irish farm a few years ago. She was small and beautiful, and the young farmer, who lived with his widowed father, fell in love with her and married her. Granted, her moods tended to change violently from time to time, and she could be cruel with her words. But she showed no desire to leave the lonely farm, and her husband adored her and built his life around her.
When news comes that men have been mysteriously murdered in nearby towns, it never crosses his mind that his wife might be responsible. But there are a lot of things he doesn’t know about…
The Girl from Kilkenny is a neatly plotted tragedy, told in elegant prose.
It’s not a book to cheer you up.
Recommended for those who like this sort of thing.
This week’s Free Stuff Friday is sponsored by Cruciform Press. They have 5 prize packages to give away, which means 5 winners will each receive the following titles, themed around marriage and parenting:
Happily Ever After: Finding Grace in the Messes of Marriage, by John Piper, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Francis Chan, and other contributors (small paperback, 117 pp.). If you’ve been married longer than a week or two, you know how the hard realities of life in a fallen age can come crashing in. We believe that God designed marriage not as a trial to be endured, but as a pointer to and catalyst for your greatest joy. God didn’t design marriage to be your storybook ending, but a fresh beginning, to help get you ready for the true “happily ever after” when together we see our great Bridegroom face to face. Happily Ever After is a collection of thirty devotional readings—from thirteen staff and contributors to desiringGod.org—to shape, challenge, and inspire you and your spouse’s (or fiancé’s) vision of marriage.
Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood, by Kimm Crandall (small paperback, 112 pp.). For far too long mothers have been beaten down by the law of “do better” and “try harder.” The burden of “getting it right” threatens to crush weary souls who desire to serve their families faithfully. In this book, Kimm Crandall emphasizes the importance of the gospel and how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection change every aspect of motherhood. From finding our identity in Christ and understanding God’s grace to taking off the mask of acceptability and dealing with the comparison crowd, this book will free you to serve your family knowing that his love for you does not change based on your performance.
Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage, by Joel R. Beeke (small paperback, 86 pp.). Neither a comprehensive marriage manual, nor a complete exploration of the theological significance of marriage, Friends and Lovers focuses on two key ingredients in a vital marriage: friendship and sexual intimacy. Drawing from the wisdom of the Bible, especially the Book of Proverbs, Joel Beeke shows you how to grow closer to your spouse both emotionally and physically.
Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design, by Tad Thompson (small paperback, 99 pp.). Of the thousands of books available on how to live various aspects of the Christian life, at least a couple dozen pertaining to family life and child training are worth reading. This book is designed to help you take those other books, as well as all the sermons, teachings, and exhortations you have received on child training and leadership in the home, and make sense of it all. Pastor Tad Thompson has assembled a biblical approach to effective family discipleship. This is not another book of tactics and techniques. It is a book of strategy for parents who want to be intentional about discipleship in the home.
The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos, by Staci Eastin (small paperback, 97 pp.). The fight against chaos is universal, whether it be the outward chaos of disorder and frenzy or the inward chaos of fear and self-criticism. Even if we already know how to do better, something falls apart between our good intentions and getting it done. Most books on organization just add more rules to your life, whether it be another plan, another calendar, or another method. Yet Jesus taught that true change doesn’t come by the addition of more rules, but from the inside out, with a change of the heart that only the gospel can bring. When you identify the heart problems behind the chaos in your life, lasting change can happen. This will not only reduce the stress in your life, but help you be more effective in your service to God.
Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.
The Goldfish Boy is a problem novel from a British perspective. I liked reading it because I have a family member with OCD. However, I’m not sure that the protagonist, Matthew, rises above the level of the stereotypical “child with an illness who learns to overcome”, and his parents are extremely annoying when they take over his first therapy session with their own bickering. Matthew spends a lot of time washing his hands and worrying about germs, but there is a plot/mystery as a neighborhood toddler goes missing. Matthew is the last person to have seen the young missing boy, since Matthew also spends a lot of time observing the neighborhood from his bedroom window. (He’s become house-bound because of his germ-phobia.)
The book paints a sympathetic and generally believable picture of a child who is dealing obsessive-compulsive disorder, I suppose. However, the implication is that Matthew’s OCD is caused by one initiating incident in his past, and I’m not sure that’s a good message to give. OCD isn’t usually connected to some traumatic or difficult experience, and we don’t really know what causes it. From the International OCD Foundation:
“While, we still do not know the exact cause or causes of OCD, research suggests that differences in the brain and genes of those affected may play a role. Research suggests that OCD involves problems in communication between the front part of the brain and deeper structures of the brain. These brain structures use a neurotransmitter (basically, a chemical messenger) called serotonin. Pictures of the brain at work also show that, in some people, the brain circuits involved in OCD become more normal with either medications that affect serotonin levels (serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SRIs) or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).”
So, in the book Matthew starts having obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors because of a very specific bad thing that happened to his family. And he seems to get some relief when he finally tells his therapist and his parents about that specific incident and its accompanying anxiety spiral. The therapist does indicate that Matthew will need cognitive behavior therapy to completely recover, but it all seems a little too simplistic as far as cause and effect are concerned. (Also, there’s another child in the story, minor character, who just seems to be a “bad seed”, murderous and uncaring, and that was a bit disturbing.)
All in all, I was fascinated because of my personal relationship to the subject matter, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone else.
There are many places in the Bible where God presents a stark contrast between two options, then urges the reader to make his choice. He gave his law to ancient Israel, then said, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted wide and narrow gates and pleaded, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Another of these contrasts is found at a key point in the book of Romans. For 11 chapters Paul has expounded on the gospel, describing what Christ has accomplished for Jews and Gentiles alike. Then he confronts his readers with a contrast and implies they must make a choice: “Do not be conformed to this world,” he says, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). There are only two options: conformity or transformation. You can be conformed to this world or you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The choice lies before you every day.
Many of today’s men have made a poor choice. They’ve chosen to conform, to feed their lust with the pornographic images of the world, to speak as the world speaks, to take on a sinful lifestyle marked by pride, apathy, and self-indulgence. If you are a Christian man, you are called to something different, something better, something far more challenging and far more satisfying. You are called to godliness. You are called to renounce anything that would hinder you in your race and to embrace a life-long pursuit of knowing Jesus.
This is the third entry in the series “Run to Win!” in which we are considering how God calls men like you to live with the same discipline, dedication, and self-control that an Olympic athlete brings to the pursuit of the gold. Such commitment demands self-control that extends even to the mind. More accurately, it demands self-control that begins in the mind. To run to win, you must renew your mind.
A Darkened Mind
At one point in your life, you were confronted with the choice of entering the wide gate or the narrow gate. You are a Christian, which means you chose to enter the narrow gate and follow the way that leads to life. In that moment of decision, that moment of salvation, you experienced a kind of awakening. Your mind was suddenly able to understand what you had only ever denied—that you are a sinner, that you had defied a holy God, and that Jesus Christ was offering reconciliation by grace through faith. The reason you had never before accepted this truth or embraced this Savior is that your mind had not been able to understand it. This truth was hidden from you because of your spiritual blindness.
Paul talks about this in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19). You were born in a state of sinfulness in which your futile mind could not understand the truth of the gospel.
The alarming fact is that sin not only made you walk in the darkness, but it also darkened your understanding. Not only were you unable to do things that are pleasing to God, but you were also unable to even know what is pleasing to God. But when you turned to Christ in repentance and faith, suddenly your mind was illumined by God so you could understand. You could understand who God is, who you are, and why the gospel is such good news. In a moment, your mind was given access to true and saving knowledge. In a moment you understood just how blind you had been for all those years. This is what Wesley celebrated in one of his greatest hymns: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, / Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; / Thine eye diffused a quickening ray— / I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; / My chains fell off, my heart was free, / I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
You entered the Christian life with a mind that had just been pierced by that quickening ray of God’s truth. But while your mind had been awakened, it was still far from perfected. Through the rest of life you are faced with the constant challenge, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). This choice is set before you each day: Will you allow the world to conform your mind, or will you invite God to transform your mind? To not choose is to make a choice—the world is so immersive, so powerful, and so present that unless you actively resist it, you will inevitably be conformed to it and consumed by it.
Do Not Be Conformed
When the Bible speaks of “the world,” it refers to any value system or way of life that is opposed to God and foreign to his Word. The world promotes “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). As a Christian man, God calls you to live on this earth surrounded by human society, yet to display a very different system of values and to exhibit a very different way of life. Even though you are a Christian, it is easy to be conformed to the world so that you begin to desire what the world desires, to think how the world thinks, and to behave like the world behaves.
Men are most often conformed to the world by carelessness, by neglecting to consider the allure of the world and by failing to guard against its encroachment. Just think of the countless seductive website advertisements that appeal to men who are ready to plunge into sinful desire. Think of the character traits displayed by men in popular sitcoms: ignorance, laziness, immaturity. Watch out for the unexpected gateways of conformity. It may be entertainment, when you fail to be cautious about what you watch, hear, and read, and when you fail to limit the time spent on entertainment. Sometimes the gateway is education, when you are influenced by people who are opposed to God. It may be friendships, when you maintain your most formative relationships with unbelievers. Or the main gateway of conformity may simply be neglect, when you fail to walk closely with God and instead allow the natural worldliness within your own heart to gain influence.
Worldliness is like gravity, always around you, always exerting its pressure. You must resist it because your spiritual life and health depend on it. You can resist it because you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who delights in transforming you by the renewing of your mind.
For God to save you, he first had to open your mind to understand the truth of the gospel. But instead of immediately perfecting your mind, he assigned you the lifelong responsibility of renewing it. Just as a caterpillar undergoes the slow metamorphosis that transforms it into a butterfly, your mind is meant to undergo a steady, purposeful change as it is saturated and controlled by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit illumines the words of the Bible to your mind so you can understand and obey it. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There are no shortcuts and no alternative paths. The one and only way your mind can be renewed is by the Spirit of God working through the Word of God.
Christian man, you must renew your mind. Which direction is your mind changing: toward conformity to the world or toward transformation into God’s image? Which has more of an influence over your mind: the Sports page of the newspaper or the Word of God? Where do you find yourself more often: sitting on the couch watching television or bowing on your knees in prayer over the Word? Over a lifetime of commitment to God’s Word, you gain new wisdom to replace old foolishness and godly desires to replace satanic longings. The sins that once fueled your imagination and motivated your actions begin to lose their power and are displaced by virtues that motivate good to others and bring glory to God. Your eyes stop their lusting because your mind is now filled with love; your mouth stops its cursing because your mind is now filled with joy; your hands stop their stealing because you are convinced you can be as content with little as with much. Such transformed lives begin with transformed minds, for your body always obeys your brain.
Run to Win!
Now the choice lies before you. Will you be conformed to this world or will you be transformed by the renewing of your mind? There is no mystery to either one. To be conformed to this world, you simply need to immerse yourself in it, to allow yourself to be influenced by it. It takes no effort and brings no reward. To be transformed by the renewing of your mind, you need to immerse yourself in the Word of God, to allow yourself to be influenced by it. It takes great effort and brings great reward.
The Olympic runner longs to hear the crowd screaming his name and longs to feel the weight of the gold medal as it hangs around his neck. He determines in his mind that he must win and then instils habits that will force him to live with discipline, to train with persistence, to put aside anything that might threaten his success. If he does all this for the adoration of mere men and the reward of a few ounces of metal, how much more should you, Christian, resolve to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set before you” (Hebrews 12:1)? You run to hear your heavenly Father proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and to bestow on you a reward that can never fade and never be lost. If you are going to keep your legs moving toward the prize of Christ, you must keep your mind renewing toward the mind of Christ. Christian man, renew your mind!
Next Sunday, June 4, I’ll be preaching at Breccia di Roma in Rome (Lord willing!). It would be a joy to meet you there if Rome is home to you. Their weekly worship service begins at 5:30 PM.
Today’s Kindle deals include an interesting biography and a classic.
Meanwhile, children’s books are on sale at Westminster Books. You can’t go wrong with either of the ones they’re offering.
This is gold. Is there an easy way to get this list into PrayerMate?
Walt Mossberg has been writing about technology since forever. In his final column he tells what he sees coming in the near future. What a strange world it is…
This is a sweet and encouraging article about fathers and fatherhood. “When I was a kid, I’d climb in my dad’s lap and wrestle with him. I remember his arms, tan and strong and capable. I remember camping trips and my first bird hunt. I remember his lengthy sermonettes when my sister and I would do something stupid—which was pretty often. I remember the good things. I’m fairly sure I have the best dad in the history of the world, but I know he isn’t Jesus. I know he made mistakes. He tells me as much.”
“Sitting in a hospital consulting room and learning that two of our four children would probably only live into their teenage years was not what we imagined we would be doing that Friday morning – but that is what was happening to us just over twenty years ago. We listened as the consultant paediatrician delivered the diagnosis that Amy and Daniel (then aged 6 and 3) had a rare, genetic condition called Sanfilippo Syndrome.”
The horror and brutality at Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers continues. A new video from the Center for Medical Progress exposes even more of the grisly reality.
Ain’t this the truth: “There is a particularly American tradition of becoming enthralled with new technologies of communication, identifying their promise of future prosperity and renewed community. It is matched by a related American tradition of freaking out about the same objects, which are also figured as threats to life as we know it.”
And why is it called money laundering anyway?
Bread clips: “They’re those flat pieces of semi-hard plastic formed into a sort of barbed U-shape—you know the ones. They can be found keeping bread bags all over the world closed and safe from spoilage, smartly designed to be used and reused. They’re all around us, constantly providing an amazing service, and yet still, they’re taken for granted. And it turns out they’re almost exclusively all produced by a single, family-owned company.”
I am not Roman Catholic because through my own examinations I came to see that she denies the gospel of free grace, that she claims authority that is not her own, and that she promotes worship that detracts from the worship we all owe exclusively to our God.
You can’t know Jesus without knowing doctrine. But you can know doctrine without knowing Jesus. —Shai Linne
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Although I moved in early 2015 to the Midwest, I left a big piece of my heart back in New England, the least-churched region of the nation, which, interestingly enough for a guy born and raised in the Bible Belt of the South, was the first place I really felt “at home.” I still hear regularly from folks interested in the future of church planting, revitalization, and gospel ministry in the New England states. Some have history with the region, some don’t. (I did not when I moved up to Vermont a little more than six years ago.) The following ten items are meant to help those praying and planning adjust their expectations in one respect or another.
Of course, some of these “realities” will seem as they if they go without saying to many, and none will be any surprise to native or long-time New Englanders. But I do think being advised against any ill-conceived preconception could be helpful to many. So, in no particular order:
1. There Is Really No One New England Culture
A lot of us are talking about “New England culture” in broad-brush terms--and I’m going to do some of that in this very post--but while there are some traits that tend to characterize the people of the region generally, there is really no one specifically definable “New England culture.” Coming from the South, I have a pet peeve when people talk about a “Southern accent.” There’s no such thing as a “Southern accent.” Do you mean a Georgian accent? Tennessean? East Texas? And so on. In the same way, the six states of New England host distinct state cultures and even distinct subcultures within states. There are urban New Englanders (think Boston, Massachusetts, or Portland, Maine) and there are rural New Englanders. Mainers and Vermonters are a lot alike, but there are also some significant differences.
Even within the state I lived, the culture of my church town--rural population of 700--is much different from the culture of metro Burlington up north--more urban, roughly 200,000. So it behooves missioners to New England to learn about specific areas of ministry, distinct regions, and prepare not for “New England” but for whatever specific area they may be moving to.
2. New Englanders Are Not Rude
Okay, well, some are. But no more than they are in the South or the Rust Belt or Pacific Northwest or whatever. When I was preparing to move to Vermont, I met with someone in Tennessee who was going to prepare me for life in the great Northeast. “The people up there are rude,” he said. “But they’re honest.” Well, the last part was true. I have found the first part vastly overstated. What many mistake for rudeness is usually simply quietness, introversion, or privacy. New Englanders--and here I’m broad-brushing, because I have to--are not an effusive people. They are not an extroverted culture like, for instance, “Southerners.” But they are not rude. They may be “hard” in many ways. But they are typically hard-working, own-business-minding, live-and-let-live people. And they are straight-shooters and (typically) suspicious of outsiders. But they are friendly in conversation, especially when out and about in rural areas, and willing to help anybody any time for any reason. The phrase you might best use to characterize the typical New Englander is summed up in that handy colloquialism “salt of the earth.”
3. New Englanders May Be Godless, But They Aren’t Unhappy or ‘Immoral’
This is a mistake evangelicals make in thinking through evangelism in almost every place, not just the Northeast. We assume that lost people feel lost. That they walk around with a God-shaped hole, sensing something missing, dealing with a vague sense of unfulfillment that the gospel is the answer for. But while this is sometimes true, it isn’t mostly true--not in my experience, anyway--and it is certainly not true in the Northeast where you’d most expect it to be the case.
If New England is the least religious, least churched region in the nation, you’d expect it to be the least happy, wouldn’t you? Well, you can rethink your assumptions. New England states regularly rank near the top of “happiest states” surveys, as well as in “healthiest states” surveys. There are a lot of miserable lost people here, sure, but in general, people without Christ are doing pretty well for themselves and don’t sense anything missing in their lives. And most of them are good--as I said, “salt of the earth”--people. The “Godless heathens” in my neck of the woods were kind and polite and pleasant, and they homeschooled their kids and didn’t let them watch television, and they pursued justification by recycling and solar energy, and they looked after their neighbors, and so on. If you’re thinking Christian mission is essentially about behavior modification, you need to think differently.
4. New Englanders Are Not Averse to Spiritual Conversations
There are many throughout New England who are hostile to Christian theology or Christianity, mostly because they equate it with being non-intellectual or with right-wing politics. Just read some of the comments on New England online newspaper stories about churches or church planting. But one to one, relationally, New Englanders generally speaking are not hostile to having spiritual conversations. Many have a great affection for spirituality, even if they are not religious or churchgoers themselves. On a cultural level, you may feel hostility to the presence of churches or “Christians,” but relationally, you will likely discover that folks will be interested in knowing more about your theology. And of course you will invariably discover that most have never heard the gospel and assume the message of Christianity is “be good.”
5. New Englanders Are Not Turned Off By Tradition
Generally speaking, the natives and long-timers in the region do not have the same hang-ups about “traditional church” as many in the Bible Belt do. They may not be interested in attending your church, but it’s probably not because you’re in a traditional building with a steeple and what-not. In fact, they probably like that about your building. But their hangup about church has nothing to do with architecture. And should they ever actually darken your church door, you will probably find that many expect it to be somewhat traditional in atmosphere and music, and so on. Most will not care. Most don’t know any different.
Of course, this is another truism that may differ area to area. In more urban areas, a more modern atmosphere may make more sense. But in many other places, the locals have such an affection for the history of their place, they have an admiration and affection for the religious spaces, even if they don’t participate in them any more. A friend of mine planted a church in a rural area of Vermont a while back and hosted their worship gathering in a variety of spaces from town buildings to a local bar. When they finally moved into an abandoned church building, they saw more unbelievers show up. Why? Some said it was because they weren’t sure what the church was before. They thought maybe it was a cult. Somehow being in the church building let them know it was a church. New Englanders have hangups about religion, but your traditional church building probably isn’t one of them. Similarly, having a “rockin’ band” is less important here. In fact, having one may seem like trying too hard, appearing too produced, showing off. On that note:
6. New Englanders Like Authentic Authenticity
It’s weird to qualify it that way, but in many church strategies, authenticity is produced. It is seen as a “style.” Which of course makes it inauthentic. But real authenticity just is. New Englanders, generally speaking, see through production really easily. This does not mean they like cruddy stuff. It just means they value realness--in a worship service, for instance--more than a tightly scheduled, expertly conducted production. Showing up in town with what looks like a show will likely be a huge turn-off. These are some of the starkest differences between church ministry in the Northeast and church ministry in the Bible Belt. And again, there are places where this is more or less true, but New Englanders tend to value simplicity and authenticity.
7. New Englanders Are Already ‘Doing Community’
In many places, churches establish small group programs of some kind to facilitate community experience among Christians. In most of those places, the program is meant to actually create the desire for community that the program is meant to satisfy. This is why most churches struggle with small group programs. The program cannot create the desire; it is only meant to channel it. Kinda like the trellis and the vine. When I moved to Vermont I wondered about community group programming for our church, but I quickly realized I didn’t need a program to make the locals do “life on life” with each other. Because they were already doing that! They were already up in each other’s business on a nearly daily basis. Christians with Christians, Christians with non-Christians, and so on.
This is another truism that may be less or more true place to place in the region, but in rural areas and smaller towns especially, you will discover that the value of community already exists. The shaping of suburbia with its values of comfort, convenience, and control hasn’t taken place. (Of course, self-interest is still a problem, but it manifests itself differently.) So many church planters will need to understand that the value of community doesn’t need to be invented, but more spiritually shaped.
8. New Englanders Are Not Averse to Sermons
Again, we are speaking generally here. But from the urban areas where the personality may be more “intellectual” to the rural areas where the personality may be more “traditional,” if people do come to your church, they will not be automatically turned off by the sermon element. I know dialogue is in fashion in many missional movements, and the sermon is seen as an outdated mode of information relay, part of the bygone days of Christendom, but this is not a view to hold too tightly in planning for mission in New England. Now, people may be turned off by the content of your sermon; but they won’t often be turned off by the presence of a sermon itself. (And this is also setting aside bad preaching from good preaching. I’m speaking only about preaching as a mode of discourse.) You will likely find that many don’t mind the genre of sermon and in fact expect it.
And in plenty of areas, good preaching--compelling in content and excellent in delivery--will be fairly attractive to even outsiders who are invited or otherwise get wind of it, even though you will have been told by many that the “old way” of doing church doesn’t work any more.
9. Mission in New England Costs More and Takes Longer
It’s hard soil and an expensive one. This is an important point especially related to fundraising outside of New England for fundraising in New England. I attended a speaking appearance by Tim Keller in Nashville, Tennessee, a few years ago where the pastor host of the event was remembering being on the board that helped send Keller to Manhattan, lo, those years ago. He said one person spoke up in objection at one point, saying essentially, “I could plant ten churches in Birmingham, Alabama, for the cost of this one church in Manhattan,” to which this pastor said, “We don’t need ten more churches in Birmingham; we need one in Manhattan.”
Now, of course, Birmingham and every other town needs more gospel-centered churches, but his point was that mission should not be thought of in terms of “bang for your buck.” Manhattan isn’t in New England, but the financial realities are similar. My friend Stephen Um once said he reminds outsider funding soures that church planting in New England takes twice as long and costs twice as much. Those planning to bring gospel ministry for the long term, who plan to invest and put down roots--which is the only way to do mission here--need to prepare for this reality. You don’t just hang up a sign, send out a postcard, and throw a band on stage. You die.
10. Native Christians in New England May be More Hostile to Mission Than Unbelievers
This may be the hardest truism to handle. You come expecting brotherhood, unity, kingdom-mindedness. You have dreams of cooperation and collaboration. You expect hostility from the lost. But not from brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, this a huge generality and is not necessarily typical in every place in the region. But you may discover, church planter, that much of your opposition in ministry comes not from the lost locals--who may not be interested at all, or who may consider your endeavor a curiosity, but who otherwise don’t care what you do--but from (1) the false converts of Christless churches who oppose conservative evangelicalism, (2) the bigoted congregants of liberal/progressive churches who oppose conservatism, the “neo-Reformed,” charismaticism, or whatever your brand of evangelicalism may be, or who just oppose something new and seemingly attractive in their old and crusty environment, or--most sadly--(3) other evangelical churches who feel threatened by the newness of your ministry or its appearance of success. Some of your own brothers and sisters may begin to give you cold shoulders or spread gossip because of a sense of “turf” or a fear of losing congregants. This is a hard reality. So stay humble, stay faithful, stay lowly and meek, and of course--don’t recruit from other churches.
In addition, if you go to lead a work of revitalization in an existing church that is dying or plateaued, many are the tales of chewed-up-and-spit-out pastors to serve as warnings to come with a thick skin and a resolute spirit.
I keep thinking of the prophet, the words
I heard in synagogue when I was young, before I
Turned traitor and started working for the Romans:
“You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train…”
You have gone where we can’t follow you, not yet anyway,
Just like you said forty-three days ago at supper.
And all of us that you have taken captive
With your truth and with your great affection
Are left here to wait for You to send some sort of help
Our way, to see what happens next.
You gave us one last word before you left, though: We’re
Supposed to leave here eventually, go tell the world
About You, the King of Israel, now ascended to Your rightful throne,
And bring more people into this kingdom You promised.
But I can barely leave this hill, because I keep thinking
That You’ll change Your mind and come back to be with us,
And the weight in my chest tells me, yes, You will,
But not yet.
This novel by Pete Brassett is quite short, almost a novella. But it was an intriguing story, one I enjoyed. And the price was right.
At the beginning of Prayer for the Dying, small-town Irish police detectives Maguire and O’Brien are called to view the body of a dead priest, lying in an onion patch on the grounds of a school for orphan boys. The late priest was once headmaster of the school, but had retired, and was suffering dementia.
Various threads of narrative provide the back story, in bits and pieces and out of sequence. In his time, the dead priest was a terrifying figure, abusive and sadistic. A former staff member tells how he resigned because he couldn’t live with the cruelty anymore. And we are told of another former instructor, a gentle Spaniard who is now catatonic in a mental hospital – but who still finds a way to provide an important clue.
The story was heartbreaking, as any account of child abuse must always be. And there were spiritual elements that were slightly unsettling. But I appreciated the fact that the priests were not stereotyped – most of them were good men. And the ending had resonance.
Cautions for language – Irish cursing which uses somewhat unfamiliar words and so seems less offensive. Also for disturbing subject material. Recommended.
Published in 1937, The Family From One End Street and Some of Their Adventures by author/illustrator Eve Garnett broke new ground by detailing the joys and sometimes misadventures of a large working class British family. “Mrs. Ruggles was a Washerwoman and her husband was a Dustman.” (A dustman for us Americans who don’t collect “dust” or rubbish is a garbage collector.) The Ruggles family consists of Rosie and Jo, the parents, and seven children: Lily Rose, Kate, the twins James and John, little Jo, Peg, and baby William. “The neighbors pities Jo and Rosie for having such a large family and called it ‘Victorian’; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all-growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby . . .”
From the beginning chapter that introduces the family and tells about how all the children were born and named to the concluding chapter in which the entire family takes a much-anticipated bank holiday in London, the story is a very British, very enjoyable look at a happy family. Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, implying that they are not very interesting, but the Ruggleses are generally happy and fun to read about. The language is both British and somewhat dated, but an intelligent eleven year old should be able to puzzle it out, even an American child. And these are poor/lower class children of the 1930’s, loved but not hovered over, so they do things like stowaway on a boat or take a ride with a wealthy couple in a motorcar or try to help with the ironing—with disastrous results. Each child gets his or her own story or chapter in the book, vignettes that distinguish the children from one another and let readers follow along on their various and sundry adventures. The book would make a lovely read aloud, as long as the reader could do a proper British accent.
Speaking of British accents and the like, The Family From One End Street won the Carnegie Medal in 1937 for the children’s book of most outstanding literary quality published in the UK. It is an outstanding book, but its award as a sort of “book of the year” for British children in 1937 illustrates the problem with choosing the best books in the moment, before time and thoughtful appreciation and criticism have been brought to bear upon the staying power and literary quality of a given year’s crop of titles.
Also published in Britain in 1937? The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.
None of the Earps were flawless saints, but they also were not shady characters who lucked into heroic places in Western history. What they did do, Wyatt especially, was exaggerate their accomplishments and completely ignore anything in their past that reflected badly on them. In this, they were typical of men of their time—and men today.
Wyatt Earp wanted a desk job. You could argue that that simple fact is responsible for the bloodletting that occurred in an empty lot next to C.S. Fly’s photographic studio, not far from the OK Corral, on October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona. All the Earps dreamed of wealth and social respectability, but they had to settle for gambling, police work (usually as deputies), and sometimes less reputable work like pimping, until they could catch the brass ring. Which none of them did in their lifetimes.
Wyatt thought he had a fair shot at being elected sheriff of the newly-created Cochise County, Arizona, on the Republican ticket. He was a deputy to his brother, Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp, who was also Tombstone chief of police. He thought he could arrest several wanted “cowboys” (a word that meant rustlers at the time), if he made a deal with the rancher Ike Clanton to betray his cowboy friends. Unfortunately, Ike got the idea that Wyatt had been telling people about the deal, and got so mad that he spent the night of October 25 lurching from one saloon to another, bragging about everything he was going to do that two-faced Earp. This was a stupid thing to do if he wanted the deal kept secret, of course, but brains were never Ike’s strong suit. The next day Virgil deputized his brothers and Doc Holliday and led them down to the vacant lot to disarm Ike and his friends. The rest is… about 1% history and 99% myth and romance.
Though the Amazon description calls Jeff Guinn’s The Last Gunfight the “definitive” account of the affair, it’s not and cannot be, as Guinn himself admits in his Afterword. New information keeps turning up, and sometimes it’s pretty illuminating. What The Last Gunfight offers is a fairly recent, and fairly comprehensive, account of the personalities and forces that led to the shoot-out, and the events that followed, with the focus on the Earps.
The book takes a fairly positive attitude toward the Earp brothers, which surprised me a little. It would be almost as easy to tell the story from the other side. Wyatt, especially, seems to me a somewhat cold-blooded figure by all accounts. We can’t know for sure who shot first in Tombstone, and we can’t even be sure how many of the cowboys were even armed. There’s good reason to believe the Earps acted in legitimate self-defense, but we can’t know for sure. Guinn gives them the benefit of the doubt.
I enjoyed The Last Gunfight, and I recommend it if you’re interested in learning the not-especially-romantic facts, as far as we can reconstruct them today.
(format stolen from Mighty Girl, who in turn stole it from someone else, I don’t remember who)
Making : A lot of graphics for my work’s Twitter account, because it’s about to be Summer Reading Program time and we are doing a crapload of programs, you guys.
Cooking : Lots of roasted veggies and chicken, because my friend Steph and I are doing a Whole 30 until next Wednesday (I am allergic to all of the things and she gets migraines a lot, and so we’re trying to figure out what food-related things make us feel like crap). I want a bowl of pho and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when this is done. :p
Drinking : Right now, coffee (French roast from HEB, pour over, with coconut milk out of a fantastic Beatles mug I got as a bridesmaid gift a couple of years ago). I also recently discovered Topo Chico Twist of Grapefruit, and you guys. It’s so good. Target also has a brand of LaCroix-ish sparkling water (Simply Balanced, in the blue cans) and the black cherry flavor is magic.
Reading: My Bible reading plan has me in the book of Job, which is coming after a stretch in the minor prophets, so I’ve been immersed in judgment and calls for repentance and now questions of theodicy and God’s righteousness in human suffering. Nice light reading material (ha). I’m also a chapter or so in to both Lectures on Revival by William Sprague (a large influence on Tim Keller’s work on revival and renewal, which is why I picked it up) and The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp.
Trawling: The internet, for a desk (I don’t currently own one; this missive is coming to you from my couch) and for deals on mattresses because mine’s not really working for me. Also, in the near future, resale shops and other places for a new coffee table and dining table.
Wanting: Tickets to Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which are practically impossible to procure these days, but a girl can dream.
Looking: At my feet–I got a foot mask, which is this magical liquid that you let your feet soak in for an hour or so, and after a couple of days all the dead skin will start falling off of your feet. It’s slightly horrifying, because it comes off in giant flakes, so the soles of my feet look a little gnarly right now, but once it’s done my feet are going to look and feel awesome. That being said, I plan to wear shoes with socks in public for the next few days so as not to horrify anyone else.
Deciding: On what fiction I’m going to read next, on where I’m going to go for Labor Day weekend, on whether or not I’m going to Mbird Tyler next winter
Listening: Right now, Give Up by The Postal Service. Been loving a new podcast called The Red Couch, hosted by the rapper Propaganda and his wife Dr. Alma Zaragoza-Petty, and the sermon series another church in town is doing on revival (all of the local Sojourn churches, for you Houstonians).
Buying: I pre-ordered this decal for my laptop recently.
Watching: I’m trying to work my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and catch up on Doctor Who. Also, I’ve somehow never seen The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi and so that’s on the docket for this weekend. (I know, I know.)
Marvelling: It’s late May in Houston and it’s only 70-odd degrees outside, thanks to the rain that came through earlier this week.
Cringing: My dead skin is so gross, you guys.
Needing: To make an appointment with a dentist, my eye doctor, my regular doctor, and my counselor, not necessarily in that order. Also, I should probably get up and make my dinner for tonight at work here in a minute.
Questioning: When my friends’ baby is going to make an appearance–he’s due today and so every text I get I keep expecting it to be his mom or dad saying “WE’RE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL!” He’ll show up when he’s good and ready, I guess, but you know. Also, I’m wondering why in the world I decided to buy so many bananas last night.
Smelling: Method lime + sea salt all-purpose cleaner (I just wiped down my kitchen counters).
Wearing: Jeans + flip-flops + this shirt, although I should probably go change my clothes to something more work-appropriate here in a second
Noticing: That my mouth tastes terrible after that coffee
Ross Douthat contrasts the society of The Handmaid’s Tale with our current one.
But precisely because of the ways that Atwood’s novel plumbed and surfaced the specific anxieties of 1985, her story is necessarily time-bound and context-dependent and in certain ways more outdated than prophetic. So adapted for our later era, “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels like more like an alternate-history universe in the style of “The Man in the High Castle” than an exercise in futurism. Which should make the adaptation an opportunity to study the contrasts between our actual post-Reagan trajectory and Atwood’s imagined path to Gilead, and to see our own particularities afresh.
“‘Once, there were two princesses, Sisters. One trained to be a warrior, at the top of a mountain. She was never allowed to go home. The other trained to be the perfect princess. She was never allowed out of the palace. Until one day, when their father said they were ready . . .’
‘They weren’t ready,’ Ji-Lin admitted.
‘They weren’t,’ Seika agreed. ‘But they had to go, because they were needed. And their journey was more dangerous than anyone thought it would be.'”
In this middle grade fantasy with a hint of Japanese influence (no actual mention of Japan), the twin princesses Seika and Ji-Lin, heir and guardian respectively of the island kingdom of Himitsu, travel together on the ritual Emperor’s Journey to the volcanic mountain where Seika will meet with the dragon who keeps the hidden kingdom hidden with a protective magical barrier. Ji-Lin’s task, along with her winged lion Alejan, is to protect her sister, Seika, and help her to complete the journey. They must reach the the Shrine of the Dragon by Himit’s Day. The safety of the islands and their people depends on two twelve year old princesses and a strong, but immature, winged lion.
What a fantastic book—humorous, thrilling, and at times, even thoughtful. It’s a celebration of sisterhood as the twins test themselves and learn to depend on each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. There are koji, monsters of various sorts, to fight or avoid, and there are choices to be made, both moral and strategic. Seika, who depends on her mastery of the traditions and rituals of her people’s history to keep the world stable and safe, must learn that perfection in word and deed isn’t always possible and isn’t always what’s needed. Ji-Lin, who has been trained to fight and to protect, must learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Both girls, and indeed their father, the Emperor, and all of the people of the Hidden Islands of Himitsu, must grow to accept change and to make new traditions.
It’s not as complicated or indeed as literary as Grace Lin’s award winning novels Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver, books to which Journey Across the Hidden Islands is sure to be compared. The books do share a common theme: that stories are important and powerful, especially the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves. But as it turns out I’m more a fan of straightforward with a little bit of funny thrown in, so if you want a fantasy for ages nine to twelve with a hint of an Asian flavor, a solid plot, and good themes, I’d recommend this one.
Dave Lull has done it again. He found an anecdote about D. Keith Mano in a posting at It’s About TV. The author, Mitchell D. Hadley, recaps an issue of TV Guide from May 18, 1967 (I was about to finish my junior year in high school that week, but we didn’t take TV Guide). Mano isn’t featured in the magazine, but Hadley has a recollection:
It reminds me of a story told by the novelist D. Keith Mano, who was teaching a creative writing class and slogging through some dreadful efforts by earnest would-be writers. When one, complaining about his low grade, protested, “But this is how it was,” Mano replied, “Yes, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” And that’s why Joe Mannix’s life is more interesting than yours, Mister Private Detective.
We watched Mannix at our house, but I was never a big fan. I remember that he seemed to get knocked unconscious roughly once a week. I was no neurologist even then, but I was pretty sure you’d be drooling in a nursing care facility if that happened in real life.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Yesterday, I was able to give the New England Study Tour students from Midwestern Seminary a tour of my former church in Middletown Springs, Vermont, and I told them a little about perhaps Middletown’s most storied pastor. You’ve never heard of him (more than likely), but the Rev. Henry Bigelow was the pastor of Middletown from 1805 to 1832. I am intrigued greatly by the man and encouraged by his ministry, described in a historical artifact I found in our church archives today. This is from “A Historical Discourse delivered at the Centennial Celebration of the Congregational Church in Middletown, Vt, June 22, 1881 by Rev. Osborne Myrick, Pastor of the Church”:
Though the youthful pastor began his ministry under great misgivings, there were soon evident tokens of the Holy Spirit’s presence in awakening sinners under the pointed, faithful preaching of the gospel.There were several seasons of deep religious interest, the most remarkable was in 1817, which extended to both churches, and pervaded the whole town, meetings being held in the schoolhouses. There were very few that were not the subjects of conviction or conversion . . . Large additions were made to both churches.
The spread of that revival is detailed by Joshua Taylor in his Accounts of Religious Revivals in Many Parts of the United States from 1815 to 1818.
The Rev. Myrick goes on to detail the conversion of a prominent lady in the town whose descendants were in the church during his tenure, which I’m sure was a delight to hear about by the family at the time. He then goes on to detail a devastating discouragement in the case of church discipline that divided the church and, in his words, “fell almost as a deathblow upon the church” and “almost bankrupted some of its members, and most of all, greatly discomfort[ed] the pastor, if not shorten[ed] his days.”
But just as the light of revival brightened Henry Bigelow’s first decade of ministry at Middletown, it brightened his last, as well. Myrick writes:
The revival of 1831 was near the close of Mr. Bigelow’s ministry, when he was greatly broken in health but mellowed in spirit. He died while gathering into the church the precious fruits of this revival . . . Mr. Bigelow died June 25, 1832, after preaching here a little over twentyseven years, or after 26 years and 9 months of his pastorate. His grave is here, the only one of any that have administered to this church . . .
But what was the man like?
Mr. Bigelow was well-read, and sound in theology and positive in matters of doctrine and discipline. His personal address in the pulpit was said to be commanding. He was endowed with great freedom and ability in prayer, and entered heartily into his subject, and was often affected to tears while preaching.
Can you imagine having your ministerial tenure bookended by revivals?
A slight rain fell; the cobblestones glistened; the whole thing had a cinematic look that Basil paid no attention to, as it did him no good at all and he was by no means a romantic.
In the wake of reading Stephen Hunter’s G-man (reviewed below), I also downloaded his novella Citadel, available as an e-book. I had some niggles with G-man, but I found Citadel pure delight – a brisk, exciting mystery and spy story.
Basil St. Florian is an agent for Britain’s SOE during World War II. He accepts a dodgy assignment with little chance of success – to fly into occupied France, break into an antiquarian library in Paris, and photograph selected pages of a rare manuscript. Supposedly (nobody’s really sure) those pages contain the key to a “book code” which will allow (for reasons explained in the story) the British to pass information on German plans to the Soviets. Alan Turing is involved.
Basil is an interesting character – the kind of upper-class ne’er-do-well who was never useful to society until the war gave scope for his less respectable talents. His adventures introduce him to a bore of a Luftwaffe officer and a rather decent Abwehr agent.
Citadel was fun. Lots of wit went into the story, and it was fascinating to watch the unflappable Basil overcome repeated seemingly fatal setbacks. The plot tied itself up neatly in the end and left a good taste in my mouth.
Recommended light adventure and suspense, with a touch of Hogan’s Heroes. Only minor cautions for mature stuff.
Let’s talk about white privilege!
I think part of the problem of discussing white privilege is that it can be easy to misunderstand what folks mean when they use that term; people can be pretty defensive about it based on a misreading of it. The following is what I’ve come up with as a definition, thanks to discussions had with people and listening to other people talk about it.
(By the way, let’s be real here: culturally, I am a white evangelical, even if I am not actually racially so. I am trying to be more aware of my own inherited white privilege, which I realize makes this conversation really weird for me to have. But I’m going to try anyway.)
White privilege does not mean:
- Every white person has had an easy life.
- Every white person is rich/comfortable/has not had to work for what they have.
- People of color want white people to hate themselves and feel guilty for things they didn’t do, or they want them to be eliminated entirely.
- All white people have intentional personal malice against people of color or don’t have friends or family who are people of color.
White privilege does mean, as far as I understand it:
- White people in America have, in general, had more systematic advantages and fewer systematic disadvantages than people of color. For example: American white people are more likely to be highly educated and have land and other assets; white people are less likely to be prosecuted for certain crimes than people of color who’ve committed the same crime; media tends to normalize “whiteness” over and above other ethnicities; people of color face prejudice, hostility, violence, and other problems simply because of their race exponentially more frequently than white people do.
- People of color don’t want to be superior to white people; they want to be equal to white people. And there are still so many ways that they are not seen or treated as such in America.
- White people need not hate themselves for their privilege, nor even necessarily apologize for it (although of course one ought to repent where repentance is due). God has given them the life He has given them for a reason. What they do need to do is be aware of it and use it to work for justice and the full rights of their fellow citizens. This is especially true of Christians.
- It is imperative that white Christians, as the party with the most cultural and social power, take it upon themselves to assume a posture of humility and teachability when people of color talk about how they’ve been treated or how they see injustice in our society, instead of ignoring, dismissing, or condescending to them. This is especially the case when what people of color say is uncomfortable or convicting, or even if it does not apply to you personally. Why? This is a way to love your neighbor as yourself–to treat them the way you would want to be treated in their position, to mourn with those that mourn, to be a peacemaker. You may not always agree with them, but you can love and honor them in your disagreement.
- And it’s also imperative that you take responsibility for educating yourself–watch movies, read books and articles, listen to podcasts. Meet people and get to know them. The folks over at Reformed African American Network are a good jumping-off point.
I know that in these days this kind of thing can seem very political and polarizing, which is a shame; if we’re called to love our neighbors regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, I think that transcends politics. Or maybe it is an alternative politics–over and against the systems of the world, which encourages us to be tribal and alienated from one another, we follow a King whose kingdom embraces people of every color.
So what do y’all think? Would y’all add or correct anything?
Dave Lull reminded me that the new Bob Lee Swagger book by Stephen Hunter was coming out the other day, and I was on it like a fedora on J. Edgar Hoover. I had a good time with the book, though it’s not among my favorites in the series.
In G-Man, old Bob Lee finally sells off the family homestead in Blue Eye, Arkansas. As the house is being demolished, workmen discover a strongbox buried in the foundation. Inside are a pristine Colt 1911 pistol, a hand-drawn map, an old, uncirculated thousand-dollar bill, and a piece of metal that looks like a rifle suppressor, though Bob Lee can’t identify it right off.
Various clues indicate the box must have been buried by his grandfather, Charles F. Swagger, a kind of a mystery man. He was county sheriff, and a World War I hero, and an angry alcoholic. Bob Lee’s father Earl made it his life’s goal to be nothing like him. The Colt 1911 belongs to a batch that went to the FBI in 1934. Could old Charles have been an FBI agent for a while?
We are then treated to a two-stranded narrative. Part of it follows Bob Lee as he hunts down very cold trails to uncover his grandfather’s movements in 1934. The old man never spoke of any FBI work, and Bob Lee’s FBI agent friend, Nick Memphis, can find no record of him in the archives. But there are strange blank spots, hints that an unnamed Arkansas sheriff came to Chicago to teach agents how to shoot, but somehow got disappeared from the record.
Meanwhile, we learn what actually happened, as Charles comes to Chicago in pursuit of a new start and a new life. Tormented by PTSD and by deeper, darker secrets, he participates in the hunt for the Dillinger gang. He helps to put Dillinger away in Chicago, and is in St. Paul to witness the killing of Homer Van Meter. But through it all the great target is Lester Gillis, known to history as Baby Face Nelson. Nelson is a kind of alter ego to Charles, a man filled with anger who only feels alive when he’s shooting stuff up with a tommy gun. The men’s trajectories race to converge, bringing death to one and the death of dreams to the other.
The story is pure Stephen Hunter, with lots of action, good characterization, sly humor, and explosive violence. The ending didn’t entirely please me. It’s a not uncommon kind of ending, but one that I’ve never liked much. It’s hard to make this kind of resolution work, and for me it seemed a little contrived.
The most pleasant novelty in the book was the introduction of the modern criminal Grumley brothers, original and funny redneck characters. I hope we meet them again.
Not the best Swagger, but still recommended. Cautions for language, adult themes, and violence. Also a somewhat cavalier attitude toward religion in places.
Early American Serialized Novels is a project dedicated to publishing novels serialized in US newspapers and magazines from the 1780s to the 1820s. The project grows out of a graduate seminar on early American literature and the digital humanities at Idaho State University.
I have a heart for early America, though perhaps not enough patience, so an ongoing project like this appeals to me. They have seven stories now. The hosts explain the context in which these tales first appeared.
Novel installments were often printed without predetermined knowledge of how many weeks or months would be devoted to the story, thus requiring authors to adapt accordingly. In addition, readers were never assured that the novels would reach a resolution and therefore became accustomed to complex, dissonant texts in which narrative suspension was a defining feature.
(via Prufrock News)
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Watch Matt Boswell, Shane Barnard, and me discuss the implications and applications of worship that is shaped by the gospel.
If you’re interested more in this subject, I have also authored a resource published by The Gospel Coalition in conjunction with The Good Book Company called Gospel Shaped Worship, designed for group and class study in your church or small group.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
– Is Benedict a good option for evangelicals?
– Are the critics of Dreher and his “strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation” on target with their concerns?
– What can we learn from this approach to navigating the increasingly irreligious and hostile-to-religion cultural environs of the United States?
– And what exactly would it look like if Satan took over a city? The answer may surprise you.
Strachan, Midwestern Seminary‘s Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Director of The Center for Public Theology, is one of our tribe’s leading voices on the intersection of the gospel and the culture, and I think you’ll find our discussion thoughtful and provocative. Check it out.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Tomorrow I will be joining Midwestern Seminary‘s Academic Provost Dr. Jason Duesing and Associate Professor of Christian Theology Dr. Owen Strachan in leading a group of students on a study tour of New England. I am really excited to return to my second home, a place where I spent 6 years in pastoral ministry in the least-churched state in the nation (Vermont), both to revisit some familiar sites and newly explore some historical landmarks. I am convinced that we need more gospel ministry in the Northeast, and in New England in particular; in fact, I believe the need is urgent for replanting, revitalizing, and the planting of new evangelical works. In terms of mission at home, I think the old grounds of New England are the new missional frontier.
I had never even visited New England before I began the interview process for the church in rural Vermont that I had the privilege of shepherding. As a native Texan who spent more than a decade in Tennessee, I have the blue blood of the Bible Belt coursing through my veins. But in 2008, as the pastor a young church plant in Nashville, God began to shift my attention from the older brothers of my homeland to the prodigals of (what I would consider) the wilderness.
And over the last several years I have been privileged to connect with others who are receiving a heart for the now least-reached portion of the United States, and I believe more and more are receiving the call, looking to "liberal," "pagan," "dead and dry" New England with missionary fervor. But the need is great and the workers are still few. As I keep an eye on the momentum of church planting initiatives in the U.S., I am grateful to see so many willing hearts and strong hands engaging neighbors with the gospel, but I am disheartened to see over and over again this needy post-Christian field constantly overlooked by so many would-be missional planters. Could the neglect of this emerging mission field not be from the lack of God's call, but the lack of the called's interest?
If you are a future church planter or have designs on joining a missional plant, here are some reasons I hope you will consider looking to and praying for a vision of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, the six states that comprise New England:
1. New England is the least churched area of the nation.
If there is an unreached people group in the United States, it is New Englanders. A 2009 Gallup poll placed the six states of New England in the top ten least religious states in the nation. While the Bible Belt is approaching a completely unchurched generation, New England is already there. There is no high attendance at Easter and Christmas, because nobody even has the nostalgia factor driving them to recapture childhood visits to church. There is no biblical literacy to speak of, of course. According to the Glenmary Research Center, via NETS Institute for Church Planting, those in New England who attend evangelical churches hovers between 1 and 3% of the population. There is a higher percentage of evangelical Christian churchgoers in Mormon Utah than in Rhode Island!
2. Many of New England's evangelical churches are not gospel-wakened.
New Englanders have little desire for anything to do with Christianity or church but even those who have it have little opportunity to explore it. While the landscape of New England is dotted with little church buildings, some quaint and some beautiful, more and more of these buildings now house liberal, practically Unitarian congregations, if they house church gatherings at all. And where churches are evangelical, the evangel has not yet captured the hearts of many congregations. As the cultural environment became more worldly, conservative churches became more insular, opting to self-protect in their religious "bunkers" instead of engaging their communities in gospel mission. The need for gospel-centered missional churches throughout New England is dire. The good news is that a movement is afoot already, but it needs more workers.
3. New England is spiritually fertile.
While the soil in New England is superficially hard, beneath it run springs of spiritual openness. This isn't always a good thing, of course, but there's something about this area of the nation that is spiritually fertile. America's two major cults — the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah's Witnesses — had their genesis in the Northeast United States, both in New York state. (Back in the day 200 year-old church in Vermont actually kicked out Joseph Smith's secretary for heresy!) The New Age movement and pagan spiritualities are still popular in pockets throughout rural areas and college towns.
But there is a rich evangelical heritage in New England, of course. The Great Awakenings began here. George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, the Haystack Revival, the student missionary movement, etc. The heritage is rich. New England enjoys a great history of Reformational preaching and mission. Lemuel Haynes of Rutland, Vermont, a strong Calvinist parish minister, was the first black pastor of an all-white church in the United States.
But where gospel fires once burned now looks burnt over. The majority religion in New England is Catholicism, which seems so odd given the evangelical fervor of the Awakenings.
Many of us believe God can and will do something great again in New England. As in the days of Amos, we are praying that God will do what he promised to do for his dispersed children: "In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old" (Amos 9:11).
Is God calling you to raise up the ruins of beautiful New England? The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
“How do I win one, Jared?” you’re saying aloud to your screen.
Well, we’re gonna get super-cheesy and self-involved here. I mean, it’s gotta cost you something. So here’s what you do:
Take a selfie with a copy of the book and post it on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #imperfectdisciplebook. (The hashtag is important! I won’t be able to log your entry if you don’t include it.) You don’t even have to own the book or buy it! Just pose with a copy at the bookstore or borrow a friend’s. Next week, I’ll select 5 winners at random and send you a code for your free download.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Yesterday I outlined some thoughts on the prospect of an institutional collapse of the attractional* church movement. The summarized reasons are as follows:
1. The younger generation is less interested in the attractional product.
2. The movement trains its congregants out of the need for itself.
3. Maturing believers outgrow the movement’s churches.
4. The movement is losing its core customer base due to wider cultural changes.
Properly nuanced, those major thoughts (and a few minor ones unmentioned) have informed my musings about the potential of an attractional tipping point. But it could be I have no idea what I’m talking about; thus today’s self-rejoinder.
Reasons Why the Attractional Church May Be Just Fine for Quite Some Time
A couple of years ago I was having lunch with a couple of ministry colleagues from Nashville. I outlined my working theory about the coming collapse of the attractional church. What is found in Part 1 is a basic summation of my argument. At the time, I even mentioned a particular leader in the attractional world as an example of a surface-level teacher setting himself up for failure. This fellow did fail, morally disqualifying himself from ministry and getting fired. And while his church suffers some obvious ramifications from that, this “fall from grace” didn’t seem to cause much self-reflection in the tribe where he carried a lot of weight. They just kept on keepin’ on, like it didn’t happen. Several high-profile falls have occurred in the last two years in the attractional world. Still they seem un-bothered.
My friends looked at me like I wasn’t on to something. Their responses, and a few from some others I’ve asked over the last few years, are synthesized below. Here are some reasons why we may not be close to an attractional tipping point at all:
1. Undiscipled Chickens Don’t Care Where They Roost
This week Jonathan Merritt posted his latest screed against evangelicalism’s audacious orthodoxy, calling evangelical would-be gatekeepers “cowardly” (his word) for calling out false teachers (my words) for their “different understanding of same-sex relationships” (his words). Tucked into that piece was this nifty passage:
And for those conservative Christians who believe Jen [Hatmaker] is an outlier, allow me to burst your bubble. Hatmaker is not alone in her views on same-sex relationships. Many evangelicals agree with her. No, I'm not referring to Matthew Vines or David Gushee or Julie Rogers or any other evangelical who is vocal about their affirming position. I'm talking about many who secretly agree with Hatmaker but are too afraid to say so.I have talked to dozens and dozens of evangelical leaders over the past few years who confidentially confess that they've changed their minds on these issues too. They include pastors of some of America's largest evangelical churches, preachers with internationally broadcast television ministries, bestselling Christian authors, popular bloggers, and leaders of large faith-based organizations. They can't afford to have their speaking schedules dry up or to lose their jobs, so they avoid the issue, or worse, they outright lie about what they actually believe.
Will the bubble burst? I would think so.
Back when I was talking to my Nashville friends, I brought this subject to the fore. We have all seen how the standard tack of those pushing for the normalization of same-sex marriage and the sanctification of homosexual behavior has changed from “It’s not going to affect you” to “You will be made to care.” At some point, I argued, all of these fence-sitting attractional leaders aren’t going to be allowed to remain silent. Someone will want to be hired, someone will want to be married, someone will ask an interview question, someone will want to teach or preach or lead a ministry. Attractional leaders by and large have built their platforms on not rocking the boat, and remaining as implicit as they can on all kinds of divisive issues. This has led of course to a notable silence on subjects where the Bible is loud.
If Merritt is right that there are “dozens and dozens” of these high-profile leaders who affirm what the Bible denies--and I have no reason to think he isn’t--but are too used to spending the money and the good will of their audience to admit it, how much longer can they (or their audience) bear the silence? I mean, setting aside for the moment the duplicity in coddling the folks who prefer to live as hypocrites while calling those who are up-front about their convictions “cowards,” there is embedded here a tenuous scaffolding of conviction. Aren’t things that aren’t firm destined to collapse?
I said to my friends, “Don’t you think once these guys begin to”--pardon the term --”out themselves as affirming of same-sex marriage” (for instance) “or in denial of biblical inspiration (or whatever), that their empires will fall?”
“Not necessarily,” my friends said. Why? Because most of the people who’ve been discipled under their ministries have not been taught the Bible thoroughly or convictionally. They’ve been un-discipled, in other words. They don’t know any different. They’ve grown up largely under what Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” so unbiblical teaching wouldn’t necessarily register as unbiblical. In fact, it would probably sound very much in the spirit of moralistic therapeutic deism. I think this explains the appeal of the so-called “progressive Christian” movement to so many in my generation. We have grown up in the attractional world, getting bits and slices of self-oriented biblical teaching for decades. Then the intellectual and creative thought-leaders come around, and we can’t discern where they’re heterodox. It sounds like biblical maturity.
We were never properly grounded, so we are easily led astray. Further, we’ve been accustomed to siding with the crowd and discipled according to a Christianity that apes the culture, so when preachers and teachers come along who are marrying Christianity with the culture’s views on sexuality, the fingers feel good on our ears.
I suppose if one of the attractional megachurch guys came out tomorrow as fully affirming of same-sex marriage, there’d be some backlash, even among his admirers. Some folks would feel betrayed, bamboozled, and they would splinter off. But I bet there’d be an awful lot of support from within the tribe, both from major leaders who don’t really care about those things and also from his own congregants who don’t really know about them. This new teaching will be seen as the way of grace, while the traditional teaching will be seen as the stuff of legalism. The attractional church has not built its customer base on robust biblical teaching in the first place.
2. Traditions Die Hard, Especially in More Bible Belt-y Places
Even my theory that the Bible Belt is heading toward the ruins of post-Christendom falls under scrutiny. Some of the more recent statistical data have shown that churchgoing trends aren’t really all that dire, especially in places where they’ve traditionally been strong all along. I would have assumed that the Bible Belt would go the way of the Northeast and the Northwest, as older generations die out and younger generations less interested in the faith emerge. But traditions die hard.
I found this even to be true during my time in Vermont, the least religious state in the entire nation. There are folks who would never darken the door of my church building who nevertheless had a sentimental affection for the church building itself. Many a Southern church planter has come to New England--rural New England, in particular--assuming that what the “seekers” want is some hip new version of the faith in a modern aesthetic, only to discover it’s the customers down South who like new styles. Your building type or music style isn’t really what’s keeping New Englanders away from your church plant. It’s actually the message (usually). New Englanders generally don’t care too much about biblical Christianity, but they have no aversions generally to church architecture and traditions. These things are part of their cultural bedrock.
I suppose Bible Belt Christianity could be much the same. I do think it will get less and less gospel-explicit, becoming evangelical largely in name only (if that), but I would not be surprised if the gatherings continue unabated for quite some time, fully produced and wholesomely inspirational. It is hard to eradicate tradition from a culture, and the attractional church scene has become as much a part of the Bible Belt culture (not just in the South but in more regional “Bible Belts” around the nation) as the fundamentalist church scene was 50 years ago.
3. Americans Like Shows
You can find traces of the attractional influence all over the world, especially in the West, but in America it rules the day, because Americans are different. We like big, we like loud, and we like showy. We are an entertainment-addicted people, and so long as there is an appetite for spiritual things in us, we will prefer our spirituality mixed with spectacle. In my prognostication about the end of the attractional church, I have likely underestimated Americans’ love for productions. In fact, while I’ve wondered if the more concert-like churches become, the more likely they are to fall, the exact opposite may well be the case. The number of megachurches is in fact increasing. Not all megachurches are attractional in methodology, but most of them are.
This is where I could insert a lot of examination of the effect of media on American values and aptitude, quote Marshall McLuhan, and so on Instead, I’ll just say that we have become a nation of spectators, and all the indicators in the evangelical world are that the church has embraced--not challenged or subverted--the culture’s trajectory in these matters. Spectator Christianity is big business and probably will be for a long time.
4. Vague Spirituality Never Goes Out of Style
Take a look at the most consumed religious books, music, television programs, and sermon podcasts. Are they the most theologically sound and biblically robust? No. This tells us something. It tells us that the largest percentage of Christian consumers of spiritual content prefer the kinds of things the attractional church is known for--individualistic, inspirational, “Bible-based” teaching. This roach never dies. You turn the light on, it scurries. A culturally nuclear cataclysm, the likes of which we are seeing in the United States’ shifting moral values over the last few years, can’t even kill it. Bland, maudlin, syrupy vague spirituality we will always have with us. It will outlive us all.
No, the attractional church has a lot going for it, consumeristically and culturally speaking. The less clear and the less convictional it gets, in fact, the wider its apparent reach. As the world becomes less Christian, we may in fact see an increase in those “spiritual but not religious” respondents. This paradigm is well-suited for many of them. “Spiritual but not religious” is sort of the attractional model’s raison d’etre. In this mode, come whatever cultural shifts, it may not lose many people at all, nor cultural influence, at least in its immediate local context, but perhaps not even in the wider and increasingly more tribal--world of the religious marketplace (publishing, conferences, web, social media).
What it will cease to be is evangelical in any meaningful sense of the word. And collapse or not, a prophetic reformation and a spiritual revival are still sorely needed.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
-- Matthew 5:13
So there you have it. Attractional Tipping Point? Yes? No? Maybe?
Tell me what you think in the comments.
* Please see the first post for a short definition of what I mean by “attractional church.”
Five jobs you’ve had:
2. Circulation desk at a tiny academic library
3. Barista for a Starbucks inside a Target
4. One of the folks who set up shelf layouts and displays for Target
5. Public librarian
Five things that you know you’re good at:
1. Cooking (I mean, I’m not awesome at it, but I make pretty good edible food, so I’ll take that)
3. Learning a piece of music
4. Collecting/remembering information
5. Reading, which seems like a silly thing to put, but advanced literacy is more than just knowing what words are; it’s about understanding, analyzing, and/or applying what you read. I’m pretty good at it (thanks, liberal arts education)
Five things you’re bad at that you probably won’t ever be good at:
1. Math more advanced than very basic algebra
2. Sports that involve good hand-eye coordination
3. Wall sits
4. Not buying books
5. Keeping up with TV shows
Five things you are bad at that you’d like to improve in:
2. Being physically strong
3. Managing money
4. Studying the Bible
Five things you do for self-care:
1. Trying to get more than 7 hours of sleep
2. I’ve been trying out mindfulness meditation; it’s not spoopy and it’s helped with my anxiety and short attention span
3. Counseling appointments
4. Aerobic exercise, when I actually get around to it
5. Making time to hang out with other people
Five qualities you’d like in a spouse, or things you like about your spouse:
1. Intelligence without arrogance
2. A good sense of humor
3. Knowledge of his need of Jesus and Jesus’ people
4. Humble courage
5. Good leadership
Five goals for this month:
1. Survive this Whole30 I’m doing with my friend Steph
2. Get back to the gym and run once my body gets adjusted to the Whole30
3. Write at least five blog posts
4. Read four books
5. Get rid of some of my stuff
Five places you want to go:
5. San Francisco
Five things you’d like to buy soonish:
1. My trash can lid broke, so I need a new one of those
2. New mattress (I bought my current one before I obtained my bed frame, and it’s too shallow for the frame, so I literally have to crawl out of bed in the morning)
3. Some more art for my walls
4. A house (does five years count as soonish?)
5. A new guitar
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
I don’t know. I used to think so. Now I’m inclined to think not. I ask just about everybody I meet who I think may have some insight into this question. Some say yes, some say no. I keep asking, because--again--I don’t know.
What follows will be the first of a two-part exploration of my primary thoughts on this question. In this installment, I want to outline some reasons why we may be seeing a systemic collapse of the attractional church movement before long. (Trigger warning: chickens.)
First, though, what do I mean by the attractional church?
Attractional Is a Paradigm, Not a Style Per Se
Some assume I simply mean contemporary or non-traditional or that I mean non-denominational or even megachurches. I don’t. There are traditional and non-traditional attractional churches, and denominational and non-denominational attractional churches, and small, normative, and mega-sized attractional churches. By attractional I mean a church that conducts its worship and ministry according to the desires and values of potential consumers, leading to a dominant ethos of pragmatism in the church.
Yes, the most common perception of the attractional church is the seeker-driven megachurch, the one where the pastor rides his Harley up to the stage on Easter Sunday after the “worship” band has played “Highway to Hell.” But there are plenty of smaller churches using pragmatic and consumeristic methodology--mainly to get bigger--and there are plenty of churches with traditional styles (music, clothing, buildings), both big and small, that employ the attractional model, because traditional is “what works” in their contexts. There are several distinguishing hallmarks of the attractional model, and if anyone is interested in exploring them more in detail, I recommend checking out my book The Prodigal Church.
Why the Attractional Church May Collapse (Relatively) Soon
So how is the attractional enterprise going? It would seem, from all their own indications, pretty well. Ten years ago, Willow Creek, the first majorly influential seeker church, released the results of their REVEAL survey, in which they had bravely and thoroughly sought to answer the question, “Is what we’re doing working?” Their aim: to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ. “Make disciples,” in other words. Their conclusion, after REVEAL? It’s not working. Bill Hybels himself said, “We made a mistake.”
Of course, later he backtracked a bit, mainly because when you suggest to thousands of people that they’ve wasted their last decade on something they thought was The Answer, you tend to create some significant crises of identity. In short, back then, I thought this revelation would have sent shock waves through the attractional world. When the leading example admits the program isn’t doing what they thought it was doing, I would’ve assumed it would cause a top-down reassessment of convictions, values, methods, and so on. Instead, most churches simply put their fingers in their ears, put their heads down, and carried on. And why wouldn’t they? The auditoriums weren’t shrinking. What other evidence do you need that it’s working?
But can this swelling be sustained? For a long time, I’ve thought not. Here’s why:
1. The Younger Generation Is Too Old for the Games
We’ve been tracking this trend since the days of the emergent conversation. From Gen-Y on down, generally speaking, those interested in local expressions of Christianity community (what the rest of us call “church”) are less and less interested in programmatic, consumeristic approaches to spirituality like those found in attractional churches. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because the younger generations are also the ones most readily embracing technology and innovation, and the like. But when you merge these things with spirituality, their guards tend to go up. They can smell the insincerity in produced authenticity. And they are the quickest to find the pop-song covers, movie-clip illustrations, and cheeky sermon series titles incredibly cheesy.
A lot of us have seen the typical event-driven attractional programming as essentially the graduated manifestation of the youth group culture of the ’70s and ’80s. “Not your grandfather’s church!” the promotional mailers used to day. Except now it is our grandfather’s church. Lame. Us Gen-Xer’s tried to merge it with an older aesthetic, applying the attractional ethos to an historical pathos and we gave you--voila!--the emerging church, which of course emerged into thin air. The younger generations are much smarter than we are.
When you couple the general temperament of the Millennials and younger with their growing affection for vintage, retro, analog, organic, artisanal, what-have-you, you find a cultural aversion to packaged, programmatic Christianity. As this movement and its pastors get older--how many times can we do the “God at the Movies” thing, by the way, and still call ourselves innovative?--they may be aging themselves out of the increasingly necessary customer base.
2. The Undiscipled Chickens Are Going Home to Roost
This has been a leading theory of mine for some time. The less gospel the attractional church offers, the less convictionally biblical it becomes, the less compelling it will be both to prospective irreligious consumers and to current religious customers. (More on that latter point below.) But the former problem would be a parallel trend to what is happening in the mainline churches. In other words, these churches may be full of people now, but over time, as they are more fully “discipled” in the vein of therapeutic moralism--a kind of Bible-lite inspirational self-help--the less need they have for the church itself. I mean, if I’m okay, and you’re okay, why do I need to go to church? I can get inspirational pick-me-ups at home. Rob Bell is even on Oprah now, and you can get all the major attractional guys on your phone. Might as well sleep in Sundays.
The attractional church has spent decades discipling its customers toward a more self-involved, individualized faith. They should not be surprised when this self-involved individualism gets fully embraced and people “peace out” showing up to church on the weekend.
Similarly, the rate of biblical illiteracy has increased incredibly among evangelicals. You cannot convince me that the way the Bible has been preached and taught in this dominant form of evangelicalism over the last 30 years has nothing to do with this trend. We have major church leaders on major stages of influence undermining the sufficiency and potency of Scripture. The pulpit coffee tables in these churches are places from which congregants can get spritzed with a few Bible verses. Consequently, evangelicalism faces the problem of widespread ignorance about what the Bible teaches on almost every biblical subject of import to our cultural moment today, everything from the nature of the church itself to authority and governance, from the basic understanding of the gospel to the traditional church teaching on sexuality. In short, evangelicalism has inadvertently discipled people away from evangelicalism.
3. The Discipled Chickens Are Finding Other Coops
Much hand-wringing has been conducted over the young adult dropout rate. I don’t really wish to add to that, but it’s still a problem, especially in churches that don’t effectively disciple their congregations. What typically happens in these churches is that the back door is as wide open as the front, and even if the church has been successful in bringing in and winning converts--though much of the emerging data on the movement is that they are most successful not in converting the unsaved but attracting the already-saved from other churches--these converts hit a discipleship ceiling. Some of the leaders even say as much. “This church is not for you,” they will say to the Christians in their congregations, which has to be kind of jarring if you happened to get saved in that church.
The turnover rate in attractional churches is pretty high, especially in the “contemporary”-styled versions, at some estimations averaging about seven years before folks move on. I stuck it out about ten years myself, mainly because I thought I could be a positive influence for change. (I discovered it doesn’t really work that way.) In any event, as true believers mature, they get tired of feeling spiritually plateaued in the attractional church and move on. And when your primary base are largely new or otherwise immature believers, it gets harder and harder to sustain forward movement.
4. The Ideal Attractional Consumer Is Becoming Less Religious
This is a larger cultural point. As America becomes less religious, the number of people even interested in any kind of Christianity is decreasing. This is especially true of the attractional church’s ideal target--middle- to upper-middle-class white suburbanites. Even in the Bible Belt, as cultural Christianity dribbles away, so too does the potential customer base for this region’s attractional churches. You would think that as irreligious people become even more irreligious, the churches aimed at reaching irreligious people by appealing to their “felt needs” will continue becoming more and more irreligious themselves, which historically and statistically we see is a recipe for decline.
In fact, the churches most growing in the least religious regions of our nation are the more traditionally evangelical congregations. Is there any reason to think the Bible Belt won’t eventually resemble the post-Christian mission fields of the Northeast/New England and the Pacific Northwest?
Well, maybe there are.
In Part 2 of this post, I hedge my bets on this theoretical collapse and offer some “not so fast” reasons why the attractional church may be just fine for the foreseeable future.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
– "Church discipline seems strange to us because it doesn't fit our conceptions of love.”
– "Churches seem to have lost track of what the Bible says about organizing our lives together."
New episode of the For The Church Podcast dropped this morning, in which I talk with my friend Jonathan Leeman about his wheelhouse (church discipline) and how church discipline became known as his wheelhouse. Check it out.
1. Book recommendation: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson–it’s about the Great Migration, the movement of millions of African Americans from the South to the North during the 1900s-1970s, as told through the stories of three people and their families. Thorough research, excellent workmanlike prose, and a deep respect and honor for the history and stories of the book’s subjects. It’s a long read, over 500 pages, but it’s worth your time.
2. I can’t stop thinking about something I heard on a podcast a couple of days ago: Calling is where your talents and burdens collide, or: Your calling is where the world’s hunger and your deep gladness meet. It’s gotten me thinking about what those things are for me, and also what my weaknesses are. I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to figure out what my calling is, and it’s still kind of a mystery to me.
3. Funny thing about that, too: I’ve been told by a lot of people that I’d be a good teacher, which is hilarious to me because I feel like a terrible teacher. I’ve taught stuff before, and it’s always a struggle for me, and I feel like I’m rambly and impatient with my students and I’m always casting about for things to say. Maybe I would be good at it if I got more practice and did more preparation. I dunno.
4. Speaking of teaching, I’ve been thinking about what it would take to have a catechism class at my church for both kids and grownups. We’re a Baptist church, so we don’t really do confirmation or anything like that for kids, but I think it’d be helpful in spiritual formation for everybody. I’d probably have to get a guy to co-teach it with me for the sake of propriety (we’re also complementarian) (then again, if I got a married guy to do it, would we be breaking the Billy Graham rule?), but I’d be down for something like that.
5. Not much else going on for me personally. I am thinking of and praying for the family of Jordan Edwards tonight as they’re grieving for a son who lost his life unnecessarily. His siblings saw him die. His parents have lost a child. This is wrong, and I hope the officer who did it comes to repent for it.
Ekemini Uwan raised the good point that everyone’s citing his good grades and good-kid status in order to counter the narrative that these things only happen to thugs or criminals, but even the people with bad records didn’t deserve to die. Why? Because they were made in the image of God and deserved justice and grace. Any narrative that says otherwise is counter to the gospel itself.
6. Much love to all y’all. Later.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
My new book The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together releases today! I’d love for you to pick one up for yourself (and maybe one for a friend?).
This is perhaps my most unique book yet, a creative non-fiction approach to the gospel call to follow Jesus, full of reflections and confessions and narrative exultation. It’s very practical, but if you’re looking for a nuts-and-bolts, “how to” manual, this ain’t it. Instead, I wrote the book — which covers things like idolatry, repentance, the spiritual disciplines, the importance of church membership, etc. — like I am sitting across from you in a coffee shop while we have one of those conversations about being at the end of our rope. That’s where Jesus is, anyway.
Here’s a little more on what the book is about:
The Imperfect Disciple is a discipleship book for people who are a little tired of discipleship books. This one is for the rest of us — people who screw up, people who are weary, people who are often wondering in church if it’s safe to say what they’re really thinking.
For the believer who is tired of quasi-spiritual “lifehacks” and fuzzy “fortune cookie” spirituality, here is a discipleship book that isn’t afraid to be honest about the mess we call real life.
And here’s what people are saying about it:
“Jared does a great job, with his humorous yet serious style, reminding us of God’s perfection in the midst of our inconsistencies, fears, and falls — in other words he has faithfully ‘demystified discipleship.’ Whether you feel you’re barely hanging in there or riding a wave of joy-saturated obedience, the grace of God found in this book will encourage and remind the saint that there is only One who is perfect.”
– Matt Chandler
“This is the most refreshing and encouraging book of discipleship I’ve read in the past decade. With tears, I write this ‘blurb,’ because Jared has given fresh words, voice, and understanding to this grand reality.”
– Scotty Smith
“I needed this book more than words can express.”
– Ann Voskamp
“Yet another discipleship book. Perhaps you had those thoughts when you picked up Jared Wilson’s Imperfect Disciple. It’s not. Not even close. Wilson takes our idea of discipleship and turns it on its head. Wilson makes us dizzy with gospel truth and disoriented by beholding the Lamb of God. He helps us refocus so that our obedience is no longer about us. You’ll be encouraged as you read this book.”
– Trillia Newbell
“This book is different. Jared ties everything he has to say about being and loving disciples to the realities of what Jesus has already done. And that, dear friends, is what sets this wonderful book apart from all the others. Please do buy it. Buy one for a friend. And then read it together–and rejoice in the gospel.”
– Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
“I’ve read too many ‘discipleship’ books that made me feel, somehow, less. This book is the exact, wonderful opposite. It’s like talking with a very insightful friend about Jesus. It’s honest, thoughtful, and unpretentious.”
– Brant Hansen
“Too often discipleship is described in strings of clichés. In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson cuts the string, shares his story, and helps readers envision following Jesus in clear, inviting, and realistic ways.”
– Mike Cosper
“The Imperfect Disciple is a book about grace for people who know about grace. For anyone who draws confidence — or shame — from the belief that God is keeping track of their goodness, this book is for you.”
– Sharon Hodde Miller
“Follow Jared as he demystifies discipleship on this unpredictable quest into the kindness of Christ.”
– Christian George
“I’m grateful for this refreshing, grace-saturated, and realistic treatment of what it means to follow Jesus.”
– Michael Kelley
“In a world — and church — infatuated with ‘leaders,’ ‘platforms,’ and ‘influence,’ The Imperfect Disciple offers a much-needed antidote to our leadership overdose: following. Jared Wilson reminds us that following Christ is not about what we do but about who we are. And we need be no more — or no less — than flawed but faithful disciples of the One who has already won all of our battles for us.”
– Karen Swallow Prior
Again, I’d be honored, if you’d consider adding this effort to your reading list. You can buy it anywhere Christian books are sold. Here’s an Amazon link.
And if you like it, posting a review on Amazon would be a huge benefit to helping get the word out.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Every now and then, for those who are interested, I share some of my upcoming speaking dates. If you're in any of these areas and able to attend, would be great to meet you.
May 11-12, 2017 – RightNow Media Conference. Chicago, IL. I’ll be giving another talk on the church’s need to re-embrace biblical supernaturalism at this event next week, also featuring Eric Mason, Chip Ingram, Jen Pollock Michel and others.
May 21, 2017 – Redemption Church. Rutland, VT. This is a sweet one for me, as I was casting vision for this church planting effort when I first landed in Vermont in 2009. A few months after I moved to Kansas City, some precious saints launched first services. Looking forward to being with them.
July 9, 2017 – Houston Northwest Church. Houston, TX. I grew up in this church but preached on a Sunday for the first time last year, twenty years after leaving Houston. Looking forward to being back again this summer.
July 16-20, 2017 – SALT Conference. Wheaton, IL. Sponsored by the Hmong District of the CMA.
August 7-8, 2017 – The Normal Pastor Conference. Orlando, FL. I’ll be joining Zack Eswine, Won Kwak, John Onwuchekwa, Erik Raymond, & Joe Thorn for this event aimed at encouraging the ordinary shepherd. If you haven’t already signed up, whatcha waiting for?
August 31-September 1, 2017 – Trinity Baptist College. Jacksonville, FL. Speaking in chapel.
“Motherhood is hard work. In our own human effort to build ourselves up and find meaning in our lives, we turn our choices into accomplishments, our children into gold stars that show our worth.”
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Some people would play word-association and I'd get a string of adjectives in response: difficult, trusting, adventurous, obedient, and so on.
I don't recall many people thinking too long about the question. Very quickly somebody would offer up the "right answer"--at least, the right answer for our context--"Discipleship means following Jesus."
Christian discipleship does mean following Jesus. It means following Jesus wherever he goes. It means lashing ourselves to him like a sailor in a storm-tossed boat might lash himself to the mast. If the ship goes down, so do we. If the mast gets struck by lightning, so do we.
When church people say "Discipleship means following Jesus," I think they tend to picture a group of sun-tanned dudes in cantata-quality robe costumes peacefully strolling through green pastures, perhaps stopping here and there under the comfortable shade of a tree to watch Jesus smile at them and tousle the hair of precocious children scampering about at his Birkenstocked feet.
Or maybe I'm just cynical.
When I ask "What do you think of when you hear the word discipleship?" I'd love to hear people answer more along these lines:
"Believing God has a plan for me even when I'm afraid he doesn't."
"Believing God loves me even when I feel like nobody else does."
"Trusting that God is doing something for my good even though my life has always been terrible up till now."
"Following Jesus even though my feelings speak more loudly."
"Denying myself to do what's right although I don't really want to."
"Imagining a time when I won't hurt as much as I do now."
"Imagining a time when my spouse or child won't hurt as much as they do now."
You get the idea, I hope. None of those responses really suffices as a definition of discipleship like you'd find in a theological dictionary, but they all put more skin on the word, I think.
Sometimes I read books and articles on discipleship and I wonder who in the world they're written for. And then I remember: Oh, yeah--for people who give the Sunday school answers in Sunday school but save the real life-or-death, grasping-for-meaning, gasping-for-breath grappling with God for those rare moments when they're all alone, undistracted, and unable to fend off the crushing sense of their own inadequacies and apprehensions about the world and their place in it. A lot of the ways the evangelical church does discipleship seem designed for people who don't seem to really need it. It's like the uber-toned Crossfit junkie who adds a spin class to his weekly schedule, because, well, why not?
I wonder sometimes how all of our steps, tips, and quasi-spiritual lifehacks come across to the Christian woman married to an unbelieving husband completely apathetic to the things of God, to the young Christian whose parents aren't saved and hate that he is, to the husband whose wife seems more interested in Pinterest than in him, to the working-class guys and gals who see through the slick pick-me-ups of the privileged, and to the frequently discouraged, the constantly disappointed, and the perennially depressed.
For those of us who have struggled our whole lives to get our acts together, what does a discipleship built around getting your act together eventually do?
Well, I don't know about you, but it about made me give up.
My publisher, Baker Books, wanted me to write a book on discipleship. I said, Okay. But I had one condition: it has to be printed with my blood.
Naturally, they had some health concerns about that--for me and for you. So I clarified: I don't want to write the kind of discipleship book most people are too afraid to say they're sick of. I don't want to write a discipleship book for people who put notches on their Belts of Truth every time they read a discipleship book. I don't want to write about being extreme or radical or taking it to the limit or maxing out your potential or reaching the stars or drinking cloud-juice or whatever.
I want to write a discipleship book for normal people, for people like me who know that discipleship means following Jesus, and we know that following Jesus is totally worth it, because Jesus is the end-all, be-all, but we often find that following Jesus takes us to some pretty difficult places. I want to write a book for the Christians whose discipleship has gotten them a little bloody.
So I said, "How about a book on discipleship for people who don't feel saved each morning until they've had at least two cups of coffee? How about a book on following Jesus for the guy or gal sitting there in small group always wondering if it's safe to say what they're thinking? For the sake of the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded--how about we demystify discipleship?"
And they said, astonishingly, "Okay."
This book on following Jesus is for all of you people who, like me, are tired of the mass-marketed, self-helpy "be a better Christian" projects. It's not printed with my blood. But I did bleed on the pages a little bit.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Reading in my friend Michael Kelley’s book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about his family’s journey of faith through their young son’s battle with leukemia, I found a passage of reflection taking me back in time. I do not know the fear and grief of having a child with a life-threatening illness, but when Michael writes --
I prayed. I petitioned. I cried. And I felt . . . nothing. Emptiness. Despair. Isolation. Darkness. Where was He, this God who so loved the world? Where was the great Healer? We needed Him there, in that cubicle of a hospital room. Doing something. Healing something. Springing into action. I didn't need a Jesus that was sleeping in the boat while the storms raged around His friends. I needed a Jesus who was turning over the tables of sickness and disease and calling out cancerous cells like they were demons.
-- this I know.
I was taken back to the smell of the guest bedroom carpet, where my nose had been many hours of many nights, my eyes wetting the fabric as I cried out to God. You ever groaned? If you have, you’d know. I planted my face in that floor and prayed guttural one-word prayers til I couldn’t speak any more. The lullaby music from my daughter’s room across the hall haunted me. I felt alone, unloved, unaccepted, and unacceptable. But I knew I deserved it all, so I was trying to be as submissive to God’s discipline as I could. But it hurt. Oh God it hurt.
I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment in desperation in those days, beyond begging him for the restoration of my marriage, beyond begging him for forgiveness of my sins, beyond begging him to take away my thoughts of suicide. I just wanted to know he was there.
The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And by his grace I had that faith. A tiny sliver of it, to be sure, but I had it. Half a mustard seed maybe, clenched in my fist. All visible evidence to the contrary, I was still too afraid of the alternative. I was too scared to believe God didn’t exist, that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t care. I was exhausted, but my stubbornness and that speck of faith persisted even in the spiritual silence.
And then one night I heard the voice of the Spirit, not audibly mind you, but clearly, straight to my heart, applying the word of the gospel to me: “I love you, and I approve of you.” Because I had been exposing my mind to the gospel at that time, I knew he meant that he approved of me “in Christ,” not that he approved of my sin or righteousness; that much was clear by the devastation I was in. Like the prodigal son, “I came to my senses.”
In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.
The Lord is never late.
Don’t give up.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end--it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
-- Habakkuk 2:3
“Look, I did school!”
A5 just came up to me, showing me some papers which he cut, pasted, and wrote letters.
I tend to be a “Better Late Than Early” (aff) sort of homeschool mom. . . but I think he’s a “Better Now Than Later” sort of kid.
His birthday was last week. He kept telling me, “When I turn five, I’m going to start Kindergarten!” It took me awhile to realize that he thought that as soon as his birthday came, he’d get a uniform and go to the school his brothers attend and join the class his little friend from Sunday School is in.
He was sad when I told him he wouldn’t be joining Ellie’s class. But now, I think we need to start our Kindergarten rhythms in earnest.
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
Over at For The Church we’re launching a brand new resource this week! Introducing: The For The Church Podcast. Hosted by yours truly and featuring some of our favorite leaders in church ministry, this new podcast is sure to make a worthy addition to your regular listens. Download, subscribe, enjoy!
And more to come!
Written by:Jared C. Wilson
“The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy?
“If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it?
“In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new. To obliterate all our present affections by simply expunging them, and so as to leave the seat of them unoccupied, would be to destroy the old character, and to substitute no new character in its place. But when they take their departure upon the ingress of other visitors; when they resign their sway to the power and the predominance of new affections; when, abandoning the heart to solitude, they merely give place to a successor who turns it into as busy a residence of desire and interest and expectation as before – there is nothing in all this to thwart or to overbear any of the laws of our sentient nature – and we see how, in fullest accordance with the mechanism of the heart, a great moral revolution may be made to take place upon it.
“This, we trust, will explain the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel.”
I’m worried about him.
John told me what happened the other night–
the curses, the denial, the rooster.
It’s enough to break anyone’s heart.
O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
He’s grieving–we are all grieving–
but his grief carries the extra weight of
his shame and guilt, one that no lamb or goat
could wipe out. God knows that he tried that;
he came back yesterday covered in blood
and the smell of incense.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
And my grief is compounded by his, because
I am his wife and I love him, and I don’t know
anything I can do except be here and wait and
be worried. And we are all afraid, not
only because they might come for us next,
but also because we have no idea where God is
right now. Our teacher, our master, our friend
is dead, but more than that: Our would-be
liberator is dead.
You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Some of the women are talking about
going to anoint his body tomorrow morning.
I think I’ll go with them; it’ll be something to do
to distract myself from all this sadness.
And then we all have to figure out what to do
from there. We might go back to Galilee,
go back to being a fisherman and a fisherman’s wife,
see if we can get back our boat from Zebedee,
live a quiet life, shake the authorities off of our backs.
God of our fathers and mothers,
where are you now?
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?
I’m sorry: We had to hurry because the sun
was about to set and start the sabbath, and
so you didn’t get entirely properly buried.
We just wrapped your body up in some cloths
with some aloe and spices and got you into
the tomb so we wouldn’t be breaking the law.
We are men of standing, Nicodemus and I;
even in our grief we have to keep decorum.
Teacher, I am sorry that I couldn’t do more
to keep you from this fate. I said too little
too late, and now just on the other side of this
stone is your poor body, your skin
in shreds and your hands and feet broken by
Roman nails. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more than this.
Is there still forgiveness for me?
Not that there is an answer for me now.
I suppose I will have to wait until the day
the Messiah comes and raises us all from the dead
to find out.
Until then, we rest.
Hal and Melanie Young’s most recent book, “Love, Honor, and Virtue” is a great primer on puberty and purity for parents and sons to use together. (Come back later for a mom-to-mom interview with Melanie!)
We have five sons, half of whom are now legal adults. In all honesty, I expected to navigate the muddy waters of adolescence with a little more clarity than I have. Instead, I often punted the ball to my husband who is a bit more direct, rather than addressing things head-on myself.
I used to joke that the best way to teach about puberty and reproduction is through mom being pregnant. And while that isn’t the reason WHY we had child #5, it sure was convenient that I was pregnant when the older boys were 12yo – 16yo. It was easy to talk about reproduction, hormones, and birth while living through it. But let’s be honest — we can’t all keep having babies just to make talking about puberty and reproduction easier.
Let’s be honest — we can’t all keep having babies just to make talking about reproduction easier.
“Love, Honor, and Virtue” would have been a welcome resource to have when our older boys were first entering adolescence. While there are topics in the book which I wish didn’t need to be addressed in early adolescence (sexting, porn, masturbation), they do need to be brought up at a younger rather than older age. This book would be handy to open the conversation with them about these more challenging issues.
Life, love, sex, and development are all connected and part of God’s design. That is the foundational premise of “Love, Honor, and Virtue,” and that is a great starting point.
Written directly to the young teens themselves, the book gives a good overview of the biology of puberty and reproduction. The information is specific and accurate. It’s just a primer, though, and eventually I’d want to use biology textbooks and further health resources to for more detail. The biology section addresses some areas especially well, including a summary of the birth process aimed at future fathers and the impact of hormones on male emotions.
Life, love, sex, and development are all connected and part of God’s design.
Our culture assumes hormones will impact young women’s emotions, and ignore that those become cyclically predictable and therefore somewhat easier to handle. I find that young men are surprised at how hormonal changes lead to mood changes — and at how confusing it can be when these emotion swings seem to come out of nowhere. (This was one of our topics of conversation as we drove to church just yesterday!)
As I expected, this book communicates a Biblical sexual ethic clearly. I appreciated the discussion on how we tend rationalize our sin, including sexual sin. Some materials in the Christian market err either in making light of sexual sin, or presenting it in doom and gloom morass that will ensnare everyone. The Youngs are frank about sexual temptation and the seriousness of sexual sin, without presenting fighting sin as a hopeless cause. In addition to Scriptural encouragement, they address some very practical ways to fight temptation, as well as some of the biological factors (dopamine!) which make it harder to resist temptation.
What I didn’t expect was the depths of discussion on boy/girl relationships — friendships as well as relationships leading to marriage. I think we’ve learned over the past few decades that it is not healthy to cling closely to idealistic relational models(courtship! betrothal! dating!) I found that the Youngs provided young men with very helpful insights into relationships, without being prescriptive. Rather than a “don’t do this” list of rules, they offered counsel on practical ways to build good friendships with young women which may (or may not) lead to marriage.
In discussing the book with one of my sons, I was surprised at the area where he and I disagreed. I liked the rule of thumb, “Are you finding your desire rising in a situation or activity? Then it’s time to back down. . .” (page 42.) That seemed sensible to me, especially as a mom, and remembering my own desires. My son, on the other hand, didn’t like that — he expressed wanting more “rules” of what to do and not to do. Similarly, I liked the idea that young men treat women in their lives as mothers or sisters — another son didn’t. While he wants to respect a girlfriend like a sister, he felt weird considering a girl he likes as a “sister or mother.”
I even appreciate areas in which I disagree with the book, as it opens the doors for conversation.
A few areas I would approach differently — yet I even appreciate areas in which I disagree with the book, as it opens the doors for conversation in our family. Really, though, what mom wants to talk about masturbation with boys? That’s a conversation I leave for my husband.
As a holistic introduction to puberty — biological, spiritual, social — I highly recommend “Love, Honor, and Virtue” for parents and young teen boys.
When I saw that the Young’s were working on this book, I (selfishly!) requested a review copy. The above is my personal opinion and does not contain affiliate links. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview (also selfishly requested) with Melanie Young!
I always thought "trust me" was a demand. That I had to continuously pour myself empty to trust God. That He was waiting for me to break myself so that He could sweep in and save the day. That I was destined for a life that was raw and uncomfortable and I just had to "trust him."
I'm learning, now, that it's a promise. Life is going to break me. Things out of my control are going to pull me under. Heartache will find me. I don't have to force myself into those places. They come and go as they please. And, when they do, He'll be there. He is the trustworthy good refuge that I need.
He tells us to trust Him because He is trustworthy. Not because we have to.
If I could just get that.
He speaks because He is. Not because I have to.
Entangle these twisted thoughts in me, O LORD.
Make them right.
I can no longer breathe in the air I've been sucking
As parents, we often suffer under the delusion that we have more control over our kids’ lives–and sleep–than we actually do.
Just ask any mother of a sleep-resistant infant who has tried every trick in the book. Can you make that baby sleep? Nope. You can do a lot to help foster sleepiness and good sleep habits, but you can’t actually make that little one close her eyes and sleep.
Similarly, we can’t actually make our teens sleep. And the reality is I would rather have my teens learn responsibility and self-regulation, than control their sleep myself.
So, what CAN a parent do to help teenagers get close to getting enough sleep?
1. Model good sleep hygiene.
We all know that “more is caught than taught” — and this is true of sleep patterns as well.
I live barefoot and in sandals. Every night I use a baby wipe to clean my feet before getting in bed. My toddler pulls out a baby wipe and cleans her little piggies, too. It’s adorable, and I’m sure you remember your toddlers copying everything you did. It may not be as apparent, but our teens are also copying what we do. The rhythms of their lives they have picked up from watching us.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had to work on my own sleep habits and it hasn’t been easy. Making the bedroom a peaceful place, a consistent bedtime and wak-up time, daytime exercise, turning off electronica early in the evening, letting go of stress, and having a regular evening routine… These are the good sleep habits we want our teens to practice and we need to start by modeling them.
How is your sleep hygiene? Do you have a before bed routine, or do you stay up as late as you possibly can and sleep in as late as possible on weekends? Our teens are taking their cues on sleep from us.
2. Regulate light
Melatonin, the hormone linked to the sleep regulation, seems to be controlled by the exposure to natural light. Bright light in the morning helps us wake up, and dim lights at night trigger the production of melatonin to help us get good sleep.
In the morning, we can open blinds and turn on lights throughout the house. We can dim the lights when the sun goes down, and maybe even light candles. Exposure to the blue light from screens seems to suppress melatonin. This is tricky when it comes to teens, who often have to do homework on the computer at night or are still engaged socially with friends.
We want to help our teens take ownership of their own sleep cycles and school responsibilities, and so in our family we don’t “make” them get off their computers at a certain time. However, we model making sure we aren’t using devices about a half hour before bed and encourage them to do the same.
We’ve found some tech helps useful as well. We’ve installed and encouraged our teens to use f.lux software, which automatically changes a computer/phone screen to be less bright and more warm as it gets later.
At an agreed upon time in the evening, our internet is programmed to go off (through Covenant Eyes–affiliate link). We’ve worked to get buy-in from the teens, rather than made a unilateral decision about this.
3. Create a Calm Atmosphere in Our Homes
Make your bedroom a sleep haven, the experts say. Reality in my family? The teens’ rooms are often messy and not the “sleep haven” I would envision. I’m not going to go in and take over. But I do try to make sure they have sheets, blankets and pillows they find comfortable — and you know, everyone is different with that.
While they are responsible for the upkeep of their rooms, without invading their space, I’ll change the sheets, grab dirty clothes, empty the trash from time to time. Not to invade their space, but help them stay on top of it. Again, this is where modeling comes in. My bedroom is not a “sleep haven” either, yet. But we’re working on it.
As parents, we can do more in the public areas of our home. We turn the thermostat cooler at night. What about making an evening routine of dimming the lights, lighting candles, putting on calming music?
Teens and parents need evening routines almost as much as toddlers and preschoolers. But our routines are no longer bath and bedtime story. What might it look like for you and your teens? Making herbal tea? Asking about their day? It’s amazing how hearts often open up when the lights go down.
4. Create a Calm Atmosphere in our Relationships
Stress and the stress hormone cortisol work against us going to sleep. And the resulting lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol production. It’s a perverse cycle that works against our teens getting the sleep they really need.
Many teens feel intense pressure to perform — in sports, in school, and in peer relationships. While we can not take away all the stresses in their lives, we can work to create calm in our relationships with them.
Conveying our unconditional love and acceptance to our children can help alleviate the anxiety to perform, especially in the areas of academics and sports. It’s tricky to communicate confidence in their abilities through high expectations, without implying pressure to perform.
Even though we dearly love our teens, the reality is our relationships will have conflict. That is part of life and close relationships.
Yet we can have control (sometimes!) over the timing of conflict, and to the best of our abilities, we can avoid conflict and adding stress to our teens in the evening.
I try not to have conflict with the kids in the evening.
In the “pick your moment” life hack, Gretchen Rubin recommends waiting for the right time to address something that may be particularly challenging. This is great for parenting teens. They aren’t toddlers who will forget if not corrected right away.
My coaching on the right way to clean the kitchen doesn’t have to happen after dinner. That’s when it bothers me and when I want to deal with it — but it could easily trigger conflict and a cortisol dump, and doesn’t need to be addressed then. I can wait for a time when they are receptive to hearing, we are both feeling positive, and not dump a bunch of stress on them when they are supposed to be winding down for sleep.
5. Understand Your Teen and His Sleep
Experts estimate that teens need 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night. Is your teen getting that? Mine aren’t. Even though I understand my teen’s NEED for sleep, beyond that I need to understand my teen.
Lack of sufficient sleep snowballs in to a whole host of issues. But the big one in our home?
Tired teens and parents are cranky. Irritable. Irrational. It’s true for me when I don’t get enough sleep, and it’s true for my teens.
This is where the power of understanding comes in. . . When we understand these external factors and internal issues, we are empowered to act and not react. Understanding the pressures they are under to stay up and get schoolwork done helps us encourage them. Understanding when they snap at us with an attitude when first waking up, helps us overlook the offense and not take it personally.
Ultimately, the power of understanding helps me “bear with one another in love,” and show that love in patient ways to my teens. And if I can’t give my teens the sleep they need, at the least I can give them understanding and love.