Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Middle of the Faith-Walk

From Lauren Winner:

"I am not thrilled by the idea that I am entering a vague in-between, after the intensity of conversion and before the calm wisdom of cronehood. I don't like to think that I am embarking on an extended sojourn into the spiritual equivalent of middle school, all insecurity and queen bee alpha girls. I begin to look for other middles, middles with more specificity, more grist."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes Ears:

Craving Grace, by Lisa Velthouse.
Lisa Velthouse grew up trying to be the "perfect Christian girl" -- no drinking, no cursing, and always paying attention to her parents. She even wrote a book about her choice to not kiss until her engagement, 2003's Saving My First Kiss, which allowed her to begin a career of speaking at conferences and writing on church staffs. Everything about her life revolved around earning God's approval. And she was convinced that she had done that.
And then a few years later, at a sister's wedding, she broke the no-kissing vow. Convinced that she had lost God's favor, she spent years studying, seeking after, (and receiving) undeserved grace, both from God and from people. Craving Grace is her recounting of that search.
There are many Christian living books where the author will use occasional examples from their life to amplify their theological point. But I prefer books like this, where the author uses the memoir form to tell a very personal story, while also focusing on a particular aspect of faith or theology. Readers of Lauren Winner's books will recognize this format. Velthouse uses the recurring motifs of sheep and honey to tell her story, and her ability to return to these themes, and to continually elaborate upon them, demonstrates her skill as a writer.
The transparency and vulnerability that Velthouse shows in telling this personal story is impressive. She is able to bring the reader inside her head, and inside her heart, as she talks about her struggles to understand the nature of living in a Grace that is wholly underserved. One subplot in the story is her attempt to fast from sweets for a period of time. It was just good fortune that I read this book over Lent, but that added nicely to my own experience of the book.
The memoir portions of the book are not told chronologically, and this "jumping around" in time (the events of the book cover a three-year period) may be disconcerting to a reader who is used to reading a book like this in order. But that is a minor quibble; the book is excellent.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

N.T. Wright on soteriology

" [some say that] the way to be saved is by believing in Pauline soteriology ('justification by faith'). For Paul, that would be reductio ad absurdum. The way to be saved is not by believing that one is saved. In Paul's view, the way to be saved is by believing in Jesus as the crucified and risen lord."

Friday, October 18, 2013

From Saint Teresa of Avila

"Christ has no body on earth but your, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Practice of Worship

From Worship Old & New, by Robert E. Webber:

We must always remember that worship has a horizontal as well as a vertical dimension. It is important for us to enact the work of Christ as an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the Father. But is is equally important that we act on what we have enacted ... the pattern of the world is one of injustice, inequality, discrimination, war, hate, immorality and all those human abuses that the New Testament and the early church fathers described as the way of death. The true worship of God inevitably leads the people of God into positive social action. Our calling is to worship God not only with our lips but with our lives.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

NT Wright on Onesimus

"That is why, finally, [Paul] does not refer to Onesimus as a "fugitive." That is not the category in which he wants Philemon to see his former slave, even for a moment. No: he is Paul's beloved son and therefore Philemon's beloved brother. Those who have read this letter without seeing the profound, and profoundly revolutionary, theology it contains should ponder the social and cultural earthquake which Paul is attempting to precipitate."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes & Ears:

Mary Through The Centuries, by Jaroslav Pelikan.

I am a little late in writing this, as I usually try to read a book like this (about Jesus or Mary, or the Christmas story) around Christmas, but to be fair, this book is not a quick read. This is not to say that this is a book written solely for scholars, but it is clearly a book written by a scholar.

Jaroslav Pelikan is a retired historian from Yale, and he brings his scholarly mind to the topic of the Virgin Mary. This book traces the extent of her importance in theology, in history, and in the arts. He makes a strong case that Mary is the most influential and inspiration woman who ever lived. He contends that despite a general lessening of religious influence in the modern world in the last century, Mary's influence remains as strong as ever, and may even be growing. As Pelikan says in the last chapter, "It is impossible to understand the history of Western spirituality and devotion without paying attention to the place of the Virgin Mary."
He contends that considerations of Mary has continually driven theological development. Basic Christian doctrines (to Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox) such as original sin, grace, and the dual natures of Christ all had to deal with Mary's position, either as example or exception. She has continued to have a role in post-Reformation Catholicism, as doctrines such as Mary's Immaculate Conception have been made dogma by Rome. Mary even had a role in affirming the doctrine of Papal infallibility.
The chapter on Mary's portrayal in the Quran is especially interesting, as the chapters covering the Virgin's appearances in literary works of Dante, Spenser, and Goethe. I struggled with parts of these chapters, as they revolve around some literary works that I am less familiar with (in the case of Spenser, not familiar with at all). But Pelikan never lets himself get lost in the academic nature of these discussions. He is able to bring the discussion back to his main point of demonstrating the Virgin's continual relevance to these works of art, and how these works of art reflected theological views, and perhaps even fostered theological views. 
Each chapter begins with a full-page piece of black-and-white art, that Pelikan later references in the chapter. In addition, there are 16 color pages of beautiful Marian art, including works by Fra Angelico, El Greco and Salvador Dali. These also help the book seem less academic, giving the reader a visual cue as to the content of the chapter.
I enjoyed this book very much, and expect to look into Pelikan's earlier, similar work on the life of Jesus. Perhaps next Christmas.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God and Light

From Lauren Winner:

"I am attending a lecture, at a divinity school in New England, about light. The lecturer is a physicist, an expert in black holes ... During the Q&A, someone asks how light can be both a particle and a wave. The questioner seems perplexed. It seems to me that anyone who worships a being who is both God and man should not have so much trouble with light."

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Full submission

From J.D. Greear's book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart
"You don't follow Jesus like you follow someone on Twitter, where you are free to take or leave their thoughts at your leisure. Following Jesus is not letting Him come into your life to be an influence, even if it's a significant influence. Following Jesus means submitting to Him in all areas at all times regardless of whether you agree with what He says or not."

Monday, May 20, 2013

How Long Ago?

Read this quote, and you'll realize who little has changed in the millenia and a half that has passed since an anonymous hermit wrote this in the desert.
"The prophets wrote books, then came our fathers who put them into practice. Those who came after them learnt them by heart. Then came the present generation, who have written them out and put them in their window seats without ever using them."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Props to This Church

I don't go to Gloryland Nazarne Church. I don't know anybody who goes there. I know almost nothing about the church.

But the little I do know, I like.

I drive by the church regularly, and the variety of musical events they host is terrific. Last Friday, the church hosted its semi-annual Christian rock night. The flyers I saw for the event listed 5 local bands, and bragged about how loud the music would be.

The sign in front of the church is currently advertising the upcoming "spaghetti dinner and old-time gospel sing."

Hard rock one week, and a traditional gospel sing the next? A church with that much musical range must be a good church.

Good for you, Gloryland Nazarene Church.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

On assurance

J.D. Greear, from his book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart
"No matter how you feel at any given moment, how encouraged or discouraged you feel about your spiritual progress, how hot or cold your love for Jesus, what you should be doing is always the same -- resting in the gospel. Rest in His finished work. That's all you can do. It's all you need to do. It's all God has commanded you to do."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"kingdom community"

This quote is from Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, an organization dedicated to creating communities where the developmentally disabled and those who assist them share life together.
"We are not a people who think we are better. We are not an elite. We are people who are poor, but who have been drawn together by God and put their trust in God. That is what a kingdom community is all about: a community that knows it has been called by God in all its poverty and weakness, and that God is love."

Friday, March 01, 2013

On the end of Job

From Lisa Velthouse's spiritual memoir Craving Grace:
"Although for thirty-seven chapters Job's innocence and deservedness have been his party line, he doesn't tout either one now. Both seem to have become irrelevant to the discussion. Job plays no more bargaining chips, and he no longer implies that life is unfair. God's greatness has silenced and humbled him, and what he has to say is brief: 'Things I knew nothing about ... things far too wonderful for me ... but now I have seen.'"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Wooziness of Grace

From Lisa Velthouse's Craving Grace:
Theres a certain wooziness that accompanies grace. That much I know. It's the feeling of being bowled over by generosity and simultaneously being gut-certain you don't come close to deserving it. It's the kind of feeling that can leave one awed and overjoyed in an instant, that can throw legitimate doubts and fears out the window.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Lent

From the editors of "Bread and Wine," a book containing readings for Lent and Easter:

"Whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose -- an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church's springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin's winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review

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

Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life, by Judith DuPre. Hardcover.

Every Christmas, I pick up a specifically seasonal book, and the last few years, that reading has focused on the Virgin Mary. This is another of those books, and a beautiful one at that.

The book contains dozens of striking photos, mostly of Marian works of art, although other photos are included that speak to particular themes. There are famous works of art, and obscure works of art. There is painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture. In addition to brief discussions of the artistic works, the book talks about a range of discussions related to Mary and related themes. Some of these are historical, some are devotional, and some come from the author's experience.

DuPre is taking a clearly modern view on Mary, and sometimes moves a tad too far into the non-traditional for my personal comfort level. But I take those passages as thought-provoking, as challenging, and DuPre usually moves back inside the guardrails of my comfort zone in due course.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dante on the Trinity

In the deep and bright
essencs of that exalted Light, three circles
appeared to me; they had three different colors,
but all of them were of the same dimension;
one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Steve Nicholson on Simplicity

Proper attitudes toward simplicity:
1. Receive what you have, what comes to you, as a gift from God.
2. It is God's business, not yours, to care for what you need and what you have.
3. Have your goods available to others.

Steps to take in developing a lifestyle of simplicity:
 1. Buy things for their usefullness, rather than their status.
 2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
 3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
 4. Refuse to be propagandized by advertising and the cult of the latest gadgetry.
 5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
 6. Look with a healthy skepticism on "buy now, pay later" schemes.
 7. Obey Jesus' instrictions about plain, honest speech.
 8. Reject anything that leads to the oppression of other people.
 9. Stress quality of life over quantity, and being over having.
10. Take time to see if God will provide a need without having to buy it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

2013 priorities

In deciding what to prioritize for my spiritual life in 2013, I have decided to retain my 2012 priorities, which I accomplished to various degrees in 2012. In looking at the "new monastic" and "urban monastic" movements, and I will continue to try to integrate these 5 priorities into my life.

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.