Monday, December 31, 2012

Augustine on the Word

"Now this Word that was in God, this Word that was God, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made, in whom was life: he has come down to us. What were we? Did we deserve him to come to us? No, we were unworthy of his having compassion on us but he was worthy of taking pity on us."

Friday, December 28, 2012

on the Holy Innocents

From St. Gregory of Nissa (355-395):
What does the killing of children signify? Why venture on so horrible a crime? If Jesus is lord of the stars, is he not sheltered from your attacks? You think you have power to give life or death yet you have nothing to fear from someone of such gentleness ... the mystery of the Passion begins today.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Athanasius on the Psalms

Comments by St. Athanasius, the great 4th century teacher. Being one the great intellectual lights of his time, I like the way he appreciates the power of the Psalms to stir the emotions.
"But even so, the Book of Psalms thus has a certain grace of its own, and a distinctive exactitude of expression. For in addition to the other things in which is enjoys an affinity and fellowship with the other books, it posses, beyond that, this marvel of its own – namely, that it contains even the emotion of each soul, and it has the changes and rectifications of these delineated and regulated in itself.

[And] in the Book of Psalms, the one who hears, in addition to learning these things, also comprehends and is taught in it the emotions of the soul, and consequently on the basis of that which affects him and by which he is constrained, he also is enabled by this book to possess the image deriving from the words.

And it seems to me that these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul, and thus affected, he might recite them."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

An Advent Thought

I had never run across this concept of the 3 advents, presented in a sermon from Pierre de Blois, who lived from 1130-1211. But I think I like it.
There are three advents of the Lord: the first in the flesh, the second in the soul, and the third at the judgement. This first advent has already happened since Christ has been seen on earth and has spoken with men. This second advent is therefore something mingled with uncertainty, since who other but the Holy Spirit known who is God's? As for the third advent: it is most certain that it will happen, most certain that it will happen. For this is nothing more certain than death, nothing less certain than the day of our death.

Thus the first advent was lowly and hidden; the second is mysterious and full of love; the third will be dazzling and terrible.

In his first advent Christ was judged unjustly by men; in the second, he grants us justice by his grace; in the last, he will judge all things with equity.

Lamb in the first advent; Lion in the last; our most gentle Friend in the second.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review

The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, by Christine Wicker.

Wicker is a solid reporter, and knows the religious landscape of America pretty well. This work is an account of what has happened among the evangelical wing of the family the last decade, and what the next few decades may hold. I found it refreshinlgy balanced and fair.

She calls churches on their inability (unwillingness?) to report honest attendance figures, and focuses on those "leaving out the back door" as much as she does on those "coming in the front door." She commends the modern church for still being able to change lives, and commends mega-churches for the good things their size enables them to do.

There are some problems in the book. Wicker struggles to define her terms, as anyone who has tried to define "evangelical" has struggled. She fails to distinguish strongly enough between evangelicals and fundamentalists and charismatics and pentecostals, which are all distinct groups and strongly disagree on a range of issues. She also seems to harp on the "literal view fo Scripture" as an identifying mark of evangelicalism, where the broader "inspired" or "taking Scripture seriously" would be more accurate.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for the Apostles

From a devotion by James H. Kurt:

I thank God today for Andrew and his brother Peter, their brothers James and John, and all brothers and sisters in the Lord. I thank God especially for their answering His call, their readiness to respond. They immediately abandoned their nets and became His followers.

And so strong in the Lord they would become, and so clearly their words would be spoken of Him who is risen from the dead, of Him in whom our hearts trust, of Him of whom we now speak.

A joy fills me this day, and should fill us all, for the beauty of the apostles and their call. For now our ears ring with the love of our Jesus, the truth of the ages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

N.T. Wright on the value of resurrection

From Surprised by Hope:

"The revolutionary new world which has begun in the resurrection of Jesus, the world where Jesus reigns as Lord having won the victory over sin and death, has it's front-line outposts in those [of us] who have shared his death and resurrection.

The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus himself and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings -- you and me! -- in our own lives of obedience here and now."

Thursday, November 01, 2012

For All The Saints

Back when the primary (if only) pathway to sainthood was martyrdom, this day for commemorating and honoring all of the anonymous martyrs of history, those who died in groups or whose identities were not known. As time passed, and the nature of sainthood changed, the day has come to honor all the saints. Among Protestants who observe the liturgical calendar, "saints" is considered in its New Testament usage, meaning all believers. They have thus reinterpreted the feast of All Saints as a celebration of the unity of the entire Church.

Whatever take one has on Sainthood and the Feast of All Saints, it is a day to honor those who have gone before us, those examples of the faith who have demonstrated heroic virtue.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Falling in Love With God

Attributed to the former head of the Jesuits, Don Pedro Arrupe:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Monday, October 08, 2012

N.T. Wright on the Trinity

Once we glimpse the doctrine – or the fact! – of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realized) is nevertheless a quasi-personal source of general benevolence. Christian faith is much more hard-edged, more craggy, than that. Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel, the life of the whole world, not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue-operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review

The Sword, by Bryan Litfin. Paperback.

This is Litfin's first novel, but as a college professor he is certainly not new to writing. It doesn't always read like a first novel, and there are more than a few moments of skillful writing.

This is the first volume of a planned trilogy, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth of approximately 2400. Many things from the Old World, including technology and religion, have been lost in the last few centuries. This allows Litfin to cobble his land of Chiveis from aspects of ancient, medeival and prairie cultures. This gives us a unique world that nonetheless has a familiar feel that allows us to fully enter the narrative as readers.

The core relationship of the novel is between manly man Teofil and womanly woman Anastasia. They rescue each other regularly, and (this is not a spoiler) they fall in love by the end of the novel. The crux of the story is Teo's discovery of an ancient scroll, which is in fact an Old Testament. He, Anastasia, and a small group of others begin to study the work, realizing that the religion of the land is very different from this ancient religion. This group comes to believe in the truth of the religion of Deu, the one true God.

The powers that be, most notably the High Priestess of the land's religion, knows of the religion of the cross, and has made it her mission to make sure it does not take root in the realm. As is typical of Christan novels, the villain's motivations lack subtlety.

When word comes to her that the scrolls have been recovered and a group is studying them, she demands that the young new King outlaw the religion, and has empowered her forces to execute followers of Deu. The book ends with the small group in hiding, and Teo & Ana riding into the unknown borders of the land.

The world-building aspects of The Sword have some strengths, although every character who becomes a follower of Deu seems to adopt the beliefs and practices of modern American evangelicals. I understand the marketing aspects of knowing who your audience is, but this does seem unlikley. I am encouraged by the few hints that the greater believing community has a more diverse history, and certainly hope Litfin develops this in the series' remaining two novels.

Christian novels often follow predictable paths, and this one certainly treads much familiar ground. Little new or unexpected happened here, but the characters and setting were strong enough to convince me to read book #2 in the series.

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes and Ears.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Cornerstone 2012 Day 5 (7/8)

This was the day of the drive home.

We were a little melancholy from it being the last Cornerstone, and only our second as a family (my third). The thought of wasted opportunities, that we could have attended the festival more often, colored our memories.

But mostly we were satisfied. Satisfied that we got the most that we could have out of this last festival. As I said before, my first festival ('07) was all about the seminars, our first as a family ('10) was all about the music, and this last one ('12) was just about the Cornerstone experience.

Yes, we enjoyed the music, and enjoyed the seminars we attended, both in spite of the very hot temperatures. We each were able to speak with an artist we respect (me: Glenn Kaiser, my wife: Steve Taylor, and my daughter: Ariel from Icon for Hire), and that was one of our highlights. And the discovery of musicians we would never find anywhere else, like Timbre & Lauren Mann. That's what I'll remember from this year's festival.

But mostly what we enjoyed was the experience, the vibe of the place, which is unlike almost any other evangelical event of church.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cornerstone 2012 Day 4 (7/7)

For the final day of Cornerstone, I took the opportunity to see true Cornerstone-style acts. Again, most of the acts we wanted to see were at the Chelsea Cafe stage. So after my last round of Fest Food and a trip through the merchandise tent, we settled in.

Photoside Cafe started the set, and I enjoyed them. They are a Chicago band with an acousticy rock sound. Then another funky folk band took the stage for a great batch of music, Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk. Their music was awesome, their vibe was awesome, and we fell in love. To me, this is what Cornerstone is about -- discovering music that you would never find any other way, or in any other setting. We bought their CD, and totally dig it.

Another oddball act came on next, the harpist Timbre. And I mean "oddball" in th emost positive way possible. I guarantee the Cornerstone is the only Christian music festival to put a harpist on their lineup. Timbre interrupted her European tour to come to the fest, and then jetted back to Sweden a week or two later. Another surprising, bizarre, unique concert experience.

After the folk show and the harpist, I realized that there was not better way to end my fesitval experience than with that eclectic music mishmash. My wife and daughter took me back to the hotel, but they returned to bid Cornerstone its true farewell.

They attended the Viking funeral.

Again I ask, what other Christian music festival would end its life by marching a ship through the grounds, only to light it aflame (they tried with flaming arrows, but had to settle for a lighter and gas-soaked rags).

Cornerstone tweeted a picture of what the boat looked like the next morning, and it looks pretty much like a cross with tattered sheets on it.

An most appropriate ending, to say the least.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cornerstone 2012 Day 3 (7/6)

This was the crazy hot day. Crazy hot. That is an actual picture of our dashboard display when we left the festival.

My daughter and wife both enjoyed their seminars from the day before, but we all agreed it was just too hot to get there early, as the band we wanted to see was in the late afternoon, skipping the early bands and the seminars. We hung out in the hotel, had a nice lunch at the Mexican restaurant near the hotel, then loaded ourselves up with water and headed out in the mid-afternoon.

This meant that I missed a few bands I would have liked to seen, the Wiitala Brothers and Maron. I saw Maron in 2007, and would have like to have seen her again, but these shows were sacrificed for the intense heat. We headed to the Underground stage, which was much hotter than the Chelsea Cafe stage we had spent time at the last few days. not nearly as much air flow, and we were sweating like crazy, just sitting there. We saw Thirtyseven play most of their set, but we were there to see the next band.

We discovered Don't Wake Aislin at Cornerstone 2010. We saw them play 3 or 4 sets at a bunch of different generator stages, including an acoustic show. Great music, great lyrics, a very artistic flair. We became fans, bought the CD, and have followed them since. For this final festival, they were promoted to a "real" stage, and this show was definitely a bigger crowd than the 2010 shows. It was their last show as Don't Wake Aislin, as they announced they were going to undergo a name change. Again, they put on a terrific show, and we were even able to chat with Deena, the lead singer, after the show. We bought some merch from them, and figured that was a great way to end the day.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cornerstone 2012 Day 2 (7/5)

We got to Cornerstone at about 10 AM on Thursday. This was our earliest arrival time, which was to give my wife and daughter a chance to get to some seminars. I hung out at the Chelsea Cafe, starting with the morning owrship service. The Ember Days led worship, which was terrific.

The rest of family rejoined me for a walk down to another tent, where Doug Mains & the City Folk were playing a set. This was another example of an offball little band that we would never have found except for Cornerstone. They played modern folk, and put together a very interesting set.

We grabbed some lunch on our way back to the Chelsea Cafe tent, where JPUSA artist Joy Williams played. After that, we went back to the hotel for a while, and that is where I called it a day. It was hot, we were outside, and even though I felt pretty good, I did not want to be a burden on my family for the evening, which had some bands that they were stoked to see.

After a rest, they headed back to the Festival and I headed across the street to Burger King. Let's be fair -- they got the better end of the deal. They ended up seeing The Crossing, one of our favorite discoveries from 2010. Then they caught a little bit of Iona, our all-time favorite band, who we had seen earlier in the week near our hometown. But they ended their evening with an awesome concert by Icon For Hire, and even chatted for a little bit with Ariel, their great pink-haired lead singer. I was sleeping, and they were rocking.

Everyone was happy with their choices.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cornerstone 2012 day 1 (7/4)

The final Cornerstone festival started in full swing on the Fourth of July, although the gates opened two days before, and a few bands played the night before.

I wore a Pepsi shirt, the only thing I had with red, white, and blue. There some outrageous clothes on display (of course), including some crazy patriotic gear.

We spent most of this day in the Chelsea Cafe venue, a large tent with a decent breeze -- after we were able to scout a place for our seats near the edges of the tent. We got there right after lunch, and caught a show by Paul Brennan Lile. He played southern-rock style set, which was enjoyable. David Curtis (of Run Kid Run) followed, and then a cool act called Oh Sister Oh Brother came on. This is what I was looking for during this final Cornerstone -- a unique, independent act that no other festival would have room for.

Then came the highlight for the day, what we were in that tent waiting for -- the Rez Band 40th birthday party! A brief video played about the band's early days, and then they opened the stage for people to share their Rex Band memories, as Glenn & Wendi just hung out in the tent, letting people come up and chat with them, and share their Rez Band memories.

I tracked down Glenn Kaiser and told him about my early days playing Christian rock on the University of Richmond campus radio station. I shared with him that in those early days it was impossible to do a three-hour shift of Christian rock without playing three or four songs by Rez. I thinked him for his music, the magazine, the festival, all of these things that greatly influenced me in my early days in the faith. And then I waved my daughter over and she took a picture of us!

And since it was a birthday party -- so there was cake!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Cornerstone 2012: Day 0 (7/3)

The drive to Cornerstone was nice -- as always, it seems to take longer than I think it should. Those last 60 miles, once you get off the highway, just drag on. But that was not a problem -- we had plenty of good music to listen to, good podcasts, and just good conversation. My wife and daughter shared the driving with me, which was helpful.

We are not campers, in the tradiitonal sense. By that I mean, we are not campers at all. We stayed at a  very nice hotel in Macomb, about 20 minutes from the festival. You know you are in western Illinois when your hotel is surrounded on three sides by corn fields!

We did our traditional pre-fest shopping at Wal-Mart, getting snacks and water for the next few days, took another look at our schedule for the fest, knowing full well that the online schedule was not up to date. But it gave us something to do.

And we also noticed just how hot it was.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Few Concerns

The final Cornerstone is right around the corner, and I have two main concerns: weather & health.

It will be EXTREMELY warm in Western Illinois this coming week. Like 98-105 hot. When I went in 2007, and the family went in 2010, sure it was warm. The festival takes place over the July 4th weekend, you expect it to be warm. But I don't recall any outrageously warm days, any days where the heat was oppressive. But it looks like that may be the case in 2012. Now a nice thing about the smaller festival is that there will be no main stage, and while this is a bad sign for the festival as a whole, it does mean that every stage will be under a tent. Those tents can be awfully hot, of course, but at least they will be covered.

I have been struggling with allergies and sinus issues for almost two years now, and my strength is not what it once was. I have not spent extended time outside, in the heat, in a long time, and wonder how well I will do. My allergies concern me, with the different grasses and weeds out West, and the heat won't help.

All this being said, I am very much looking forward to the festival.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Interesting the Cornerstone Fest is so much smaller this year, both in terms of bands and seminars. And the changing nature of the lineup is making planning difficult -- in order to even run the festival this one last time, they have had to not pay artists and speakers. This has led to many artists and speakers to cancel, and some have been added, just to participate in the last Cornerstone.

This is killing my OCD planning heart. So this year I need to learn about flexibility!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

We are going!

My family (mostly my 21-year-old daughter) talked me into checking out if we could make it to the final Cornerstone Festival this year. This will be our second time to go as a family (2010), and my third time (2010 and 2007).

The good news for us is that there were still tickets available. The bad news for the fest is that there will still tickets available.

The good news for us is that it was no problem for us to get a nearby hotel room (no, we are not campers). The bad news for the fest is that is was no problem for us to get a nearby hotel room. When I went the first time, I booked my hotel room six months prior, and had to be in the next town over. But this time, a month out, we nabbed a nice place relatively close by.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Last Cornerstone

Yes, there are other Christian music fests. I have been to other Christian music fests.

But Cornerstone, which is approaching its 29th (and last) occurrence, is different from those other music fests. I first attended Cornerstone in 2007, and it spoiled me for the other fests. I haven't been to a different one (even though Creation, Alive, and Ichthus are all closer to me geographically) since attending Cornerstone.

It's just not the same -- it serves a critical function in the American church. And after it disappears, I wonder what will take it place. Please, something take its place.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Simon Ponsonby on Death

from And The Lamb Wins:

" Death comes by decree and by degree. It is the consequence of rebellion against God's law -- it unravels God's creational intent, bringing death of the body, serparation of the soul from God when enfleshed, and ultimate eternal separation from God.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Christianity is Hope

According to Simon Ponsonby's And The Lamb Wins, hope is a key feature of Christianity. He says:

* Hope is at the heart of Christian tradition
* Christian hope is founded on the God who has promised and acted in Christ
* Hope refuses to be alarmist
* Hope steadies the Christian in life's storms
* Hope is attractive to the hopeless
* Hope is communal
* There is nothing passive about hope
* Hope is disciplined waiting
* Hope leads to mission

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Simon Ponsonby on Judgment

In "And The Lamb Wins," author Simon Ponsonby identifies seven key points about judgment:

1) History will be wrapped up by Christ coming in judgment.
2) Each person must pass through this judgment.
3) The standard by which our sins are judged is the perfection and glory of God.
4) Judgment is God's final word, but mercy was his first.
5) Judgment will manifest the majesty of Christ.
6) Judgment for the unbeliever brings condemnation for sin; judgment for the believer reveals sins as forgiven in Christ.
7) There is only one way by which we may pass through judgment unscathed and enter from it into Heaven.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

NT Wright on Renewal

"The great claim of Revelation 21 and 22 is that heaven and earth will finally be united. This is the polar opposite of all kinds of Gnosticism with their ultimate separation of heaven and earth ... eventually heaven and earth will be impregnated with each other ... God's heaven, God's life, God's dimension, impregnating, permeating, charging the present world, eventually producing new or renewed heavens and new or renewed earth integrated with each other."

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Power of the Cross

From Thomas a Kempis:
"In the Cross is health, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection from enemies, in the Cross is heavenly sweetness, in the Cross strength of mind, in the Cross the joy of the spirit, in the Cross the height of virtue, in the Cross perfection of holiness. There is no health of the soul, no hope of eternal life, save for the Cross."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reading About Prayer

From Lauren Winner:

"Because it is easier to read about praryer than to pray, I have selves full of books: meditations on the Lord's Prayer by a dozen different authors; scholarly accounts of prayer in the twelfth century, the eighteenth century ... sometimes I think that all this reading gets in the way, that the books become excuses, something to do in lieu of praying."

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Hope for the Next Generation

A devotion from James H. Kurt:

"You are our hope. You come down from the mountain, from the glory on high, to dwell with the likes of us and save us from the devil's grasp, which has such a dire hold upon us and upon our children. Only by the grace of Your presence will this generation be saved. I'll not leave till this generation be saved."

Friday, March 02, 2012

N.T. Wright on Worship

From his book, Simply Jesus:

"All kingdom work is rooted in worship. Or, to put it the other way around, worshipping the God we see at work in Jesus is the most politically charged act we can ever perform. Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and that therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When God is in Charge

From N.T. Wright:

"When Jesus healed people, when he celebrated parties with all and sundry, when he offered forgiveness freely to people as if he were replacing the Temple itself with his own work -- in all these ways it ws clear, and he intended it to be clear, that this wasn't just a foretaste of a future reality. This was relaity itself. This was what it looked like when God was in charge."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Our New Vocation

From N.T. Wright:

"Jesus thereby leads the way to a new vocation. Instead of the frantic pressure to defend the identity of people, land, and Temple. Jesus's followers are, through the renewal of hearts and lives, to recover the initial vision of being a royal priesthood for the whole world, which is the Messiah's inheritance and now will become theirs as well."

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Devotional Plan

Every year I "shake up" my devotional plan, trying to avoid slipping into a rut, doing an activity simply because I have done it in the past. This year, I am adding a mid-day devotion, and continuing to add ancient practices and disciplines into my life.

For 2012, my plans are:

Morning devotion -- Daily Audio Bible podcast, going through the entire Bible (a range of translations) in a year.

Mid-day devotion -- All from thehe Evangelizo app. Praying through the daily Gospel and reflection, a saint of the day, and prayers from liturgical readings.

Evening devotion -- Night prayer from SQPN PrayStation Portable podcast, daily reflection and occassional saint readings from the BreadCast podcast.

Weekly (usually on Saturday) -- Lectio Divina, via the weekly podcsat presented Rev. Todd Spencer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012 Priorities

In deciding what to prioritize for my spiritual life in 2012, my focus has been on the "new monastic" and "urban monastic" movements, and I have tried to discern what of those areas I should try to integrate into my life. I have decided on 5 priorities, tht I think summarize key aspects of these that I can commit to.

S olitude
S tillness
S ilence
S implicity
S ervice

I have not worked out how each of these will be integrated into my life, but I have confidence that I'll figure it out. I have a destination.