Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Prayer of Praise and Adoration

Christmas prayer adapted from Augustine:

All praise to You, O King of Heaven and earth, this Christmas Sunday
For the incarnation;
As Adam was brought forth from the uncursed soil,
so You were born of a virgin;
When man’s Maker was made man,
that He Who made the Milky Way, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
the Bread hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be a tired Traveler;
the Truth slandered by false witness,
the Teacher flogged,
the Foundation hung upon a wooden beam;
that Strength weaken;
that the Healer be wounded;
and Life die.
For these great mysteries and for beautiful gospel of peace
we give You thanks today and forever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Cultures cultivate. A culture is more like an ecosystem than like a supermarket. And human persons, as encultured creatures, are generally less like independent rationally choosing shoppers than like organisms whose environment predisposes a certain set of attitudes and actions.
Cultures cultivate. Not that our activities are absolutely determined by cultural influences. We are rational beings, not just instinctual beings. We can make choices that go against the conventions sustained around us. We can lean into the prevailing winds, but only if we know how to stand somewhere solid. Only if we are not being carried by the wind. We need to be able to imagine alternative ways of perceiving reality.
Cultures cultivate, so if we want to offset the influence of cultural systems that distort or misrepresent reality, we need more than good arguments that analyze the distortions. We need cultural alternatives that provide opportunities for participating in a different way of telling the story of human experience.
For example, counteracting the materialistic reductionism of our time requires practices that convey to our imaginations the coherent unity of matter and spirit. Challenging the assumptions that human beings are best understood and best treated by social structures as autonomous choosers whose choices provide meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe requires settings in which submission and obedience to some order of things that precedes our willing is known as a delight and a blessing.
Distorted institutions and practices can’t be confronted only by arguments. They require well-ordered practices and institutions. Resisting cultural confusion is more than a matter of thinkingoutside the box. We need to be able to intuit outside the box. And to encourage well-ordered intuitions to those under our care, especially our children — because cultures cultivate.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Advent Hymn #2: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending

A Ralph Vaughan Williams processional Advent Hymn.  Enough Said.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Hymnody #1 - O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide

... Another beautiful Advent hymn we hear very little of.  It is German from the early 1600's.  And in case you're thinking it is too difficult to learn, here are a bunch of kindergartners who have mastered it.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

God's Finger, My Forehead, and Her Intricate, Perfect Ears

[More than 10 years ago, in a seminary workshop outside of Greenville, SC, I heard a speaker read this passage.  Since then I've ruminated on it scores of times, though never remembering its author.  This morning, in a Ken Myers interview of Mary Eberstadt, I was delighted to hear it referred to again - with the author's name attached - Whittaker Chambers!  Enjoy.]

“It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss's apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear — those intricate, perfect ears.

The thought passed through my mind: 'No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature. They could have been created only by immense design.'

The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.”

- Whittaker Chambers, Introduction, Witness

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book List

You are what your mind eats …

Thursday, October 22, 2015

As the Angels in Heaven: A Theological Reflection on the Plight of Bruce Jenner

Long after his sordid story broke, we are still talking about Bruce Jenner.  His sad state fascinates us and brings many of our societal failures and follies to the surface.  Chief among them is our destructive devotion to the ultimacy of personal choice.  Devotion that borders on idolatry.
In this man's fractured life, we see the folly of making the subjective will ultimate. 

When a full-grown man says something like, "as far back as i can remember, i have felt like and identified as a woman," and we are unable to respond with anything but, "well, then you must really be a woman," we are in deep trouble.
Certain fundamental things precede memory.  Certain truths are objectively true about us - whether we prefer and identify with them or not.  Several of these objective truths of reality come by way of the body we're given. We receive our bodies, and therefore our genders, long before we possess anything like memory or feeling or a sense of identity or even any self awareness at all.
You show up at conception and there it is - already right there in your DNA from the first second of your life.  And centuries after you die, if archaeologists happen to dig up your bones, one of the first things they will determine by the most basic testing is whether you were male or female.

When we hear ourselves asking questions like - "Can you imagine being trapped in a body you don't belong in?" ... as if you could be switched at birth into a foreign body by accident or trickery... as if - because of its gender - your body were something you could be "trapped inside of" like an elevator in a blackout.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Grave Importance of Church Funerals and Cemetery Yards

"[The problem is] not that our culture doesn't believe in God.  It's that our culture doesn't believe in death ... really.  And as a result, [we] don't really get the point.  Our culture is dedicated to distracting us from this inconvenient truth.  We are dedicated to being distracted from distraction by distraction."

- David Bentley Hart

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Cumulative Effect of Family Worship

"Family worship is an anchor and foundation for the rest of life.  When you sit with your family, read the Scriptures and pray together, you are giving them a touchstone they can relate to throughout their day and experiences.  It's not as if there's going to be direct one to one correspondence to what you talk about that day and what happened at school with their friends.  The effect is cumulative.  They don't remember what they had for dinner last Tuesday either.  But the effect in enabling them to grow is obvious.  ... You would never tell your family, 'I think we're just going to skip dinner tonight.' ... In the same way, the cumulative effect of teaching God's Word that informs their hearts and minds so that they can think Biblically and act Biblically as occasions arise in their lives... It is important to be consistent yet flexible."

- Timothy Witmer, professor of at Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary, 
author of The Shepherd Leader at Home

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ADHD in Context

"I think that ADD is probably a necessary neurological adjustment to the all-at-once environment that we have.  This was Marshall McLuhan's prophetic awareness - to understand this.  ADD is a necessary adjustment."

- B.W. Powe

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Redemption of Bernard Nathanson

Few people, if any, did more than Bernard Nathanson to undermine the right to life of unborn children by turning abortion from an unspeakable crime into a constitutionally protected liberty. [And] someday, when our law is reformed to honor the dignity and protect the right to life of every member of the human family, including children in the womb, historians will observe that few people did more than Bernard Nathanson to achieve that reversal.

Dr. Nathanson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, had his first involvement with abortion arranging an illegal abortion for his girlfriend. Many years later, he [called it] his “introductory excursion into the satanic world of abortion.”
Nathanson became a nearly monomaniacal crusader for abortion. As Director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, he presided over more than 60,000 abortions and performed 5,000 himself [one of which included his own son or daughter inconveniently conceived out of wedlock]. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Psalm 23 a Modern Secularized Version

We will have no shepherd, and yet we shall not want …
By getting a competitive and marketable degree I have postured myself to lie down in the green pastures.
By attaining a certain socio-economic status I am able to reside beside the still waters,
I maintaining a generally law-abiding lifestyle I walk on the paths of practicing random acts of kindness from time to time for the sake of a tolerant coexistence,

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death with the help of my therapist I will fear no evil; my expansive healthcare benefits and the technical advances of medical researchers comfort me.

Thanks to modern biology, nutritional science, and economics – I have prepared a table for myself and my elected officials wield our military might to keep our enemies as far away as possible.

I’m able to take advantage of the convergence of Madison Avenue and Wallstreet so that my head is anointed with this season’s latest fashionable accessories, and inasmuch as I’m able to be savvy and tap into their lifegiving streams - my cup runneth over.

Surely material abundance and the right to make my own personal choices about truth and reality shall follow me all the days of my life and then afterward I will dwell in the house of bliss forever according to the details of my own preferred religion’s happy ending – unless of course there is no life after death in which case, I won’t.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Within the churches are those who defend the historic Christian teaching on sexuality.  It is assumed that there will always be some discernible dissonance between the Church and the world and that part of the mission of the Holy Spirit through the Church is, as Jesus says in John 16, to “tell the world that it is wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” 
On the other side are those who reject the historic Christian teaching and who seem to believe that the world, as represented by its most self-consciously progressive institutions and thinkers, is ahead of the Church in ushering in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, that the world is right in telling the Church that it is wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement. They say that God is doing a new thing. But they seem unable to imagine that God might say ‘no’ to any new thing done in the world in the name of progress. There seems to be no room on the part of the revisionists for any truly prophetic word to be spoken to the world’s claims about love and justice.

-Ken Myers

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Judges as Umpires

[Folks, here's an old piece I wrote for my students several years ago when we were studying government and history.  I'd probably nuance differently today, but the basic thesis holds true and is quite timely.]

Thurgood Marshall once admitted that his judicial philosophy boiled down to “do what you think is right and let the law catch up.”

This is exactly what we mean by the phrase ‘judicial activism’. A man [or woman] in a black robe takes it upon himself to change a state or country whether or not the Constitution gives him that authority.  It's a quiet coup.

This is the heart of the issue. We all want to change the country, but the ultimate question is this: which side is attempting to do so illegally? It’s that simple. The Constitution lays out what our judges are and are not authorized to do. Any actions they take beyond those found in that document are, properly-speaking, illegal.  As Justice Scalia helpfully points out, if you want to change the nation, pass a law.  Don't appeal to the Constitution or its interpreters [judges] because Constitutions are adopted to impede change, not facilitate it.  Stability is their whole purpose.

He uses the analogy of being a referee or umpire in the legal system.  A judge is umpire.  He doesn’t agonize about whether the rules are fair or right or good for the future of the game.  He makes the call to the best of his ability by applying the rules. That’s all. He doesn’t have the power to make or alter the rules based on a preferred outcome! He’s just an umpire. They’re just judges.

"In the system which says that the Constitution changes and it’s up to the judges to say what it means – they really have no answers. There is no criterion for when it changes and how it changes. Every day is a new day. Some of my collegues have said that they agonize a lot. I don’t agonize at all. Sometimes it’s hard to follow and find the record in history, but you know, I don’t agonize if there’s a right to this or that. But with these guys – every day’s a new day. Last year the death penalty was constitutional and I’ll have to worry about whether it’s still constitutional next year."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Helpful Explanation

“We objectify everything and begin to think of our bodies as an achievement… We see the body as a problem, as a hindrance to spiritual life – in order to get to the true self, who we really are, we have to somehow control the body and make it do what we want it to do.  In that way we will finally be who we’re ‘supposed to be’,  ‘who we are’.  Previously secular women have a lot of interest in spirituality.  And what drives this is the idea that spirituality is a way to find your ‘true, inner self’ as seen in opposition to your ‘bodily self’.  In other words, we want to escape the body and the limitations of our bodies by becoming spiritual in a disembodied spirituality.  This comes from Descartes’s mind/body opposition.  What happens when you do that is everything done immediately through the body – your eating, your work, your sexuality - becomes meaningless.  So you can do anything you want to, sexually, or through surgery, or manipulation of any kind that you want.  These things are considered acceptable because you’re just trying to get down to ‘who you really are’ your ‘inner self’.  Now, we are more than our bodies, but we are our bodies.  And we need to think of ourselves and other people holistically – not think, ‘Well, there’s somebody in there who really is who you really are’.  In the Christian paradigm, this is how our faith is supposed to be lived out.”

Lillian Calles Barger, author of Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body and President of the Damaris Project

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Widerstehe doch der Sünde: Stand strong against sin." BWV 54

Glenn Gould once said that Bach was the greatest architect of sound to ever live.  Here he takes us on a guided tour of Cantata 54.  Written to accompany the Lenten reading for "Oculi Sunday" from Ephesians 5.1-9.  As Gould notes, these are probably the words of our elder brother in the Faith, Johann, himself.  In it we hear and feel the swelling seduction of temptation along with the struggle and tension of dissonant chords, but then, through it all cuts the clear voice of the Spirit calling us to stand strong and overcome our enemy.

“Stand firm against all sinning, or its poison will possess you.. Those who commit sin are of the devil, for he has invented sin, but if one resists his vile shackles with true devotion, sin will straightaway take flight.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Zeitgeist as Fog not Wind

"We live in an age that keeps authoritative institutions, philosophies, and religions at arm's length, mixing and matching and analyzing them with a market-place mentality.

There is a fear of change, but who wouldn't be afraid of change?  St Augustine in The Confessions is a freshman in college and reads this book by Cicero that is a call to pursue wisdom for its own sake, so he says it changes his life and he goes after wisdom, but at the moment of his conversion, he looks back on the previous ten or twelve years and, although he set off to pursue wisdom, he realized that nothing really changed, because he didn't really want to be different.

It's scary.  Our habits whisper in our ear and tell us that without them we wouldn't be who we really are.  And Augustine says that in the end that's right.  We wouldn't be who we are.  Part of the genius of The Confessions is to affirm that the journey of faith really is a death to self; it is a really disjunctive and wrenching kind of transformation.  Who wouldn't be frightful in the face of that?"

R.R. Reno, author of "In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminishing Christianity"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Worship Music and Immaturity

Musical Reformation and Emotional Maturity

Imagine a man dying of kidney failure.  Tests confirm that his cousin is a potential match.  So at the last minute, his cousin undergoes the risky procedure to donate a kidney with the hope that it will save the man's life.  It does.  And ever since, every Sunday, the two of them meet for an afternoon meal, the joy of each other's company, and to share in the experience of their "second/new" life together.

It has been many years since the surgery - several decades, in fact - and one Sunday, the cousin invites you to join them for their meal and time together.  Much to your surprise, as you pull into the driveway with the cousin-donor you see the formerly-healed man fling open the door with an ecstatic look on his face and his arms upraised in celebration.  He flies out of his house with leaps and bounds shouting at the top of his lungs and dancing in jubilation toward you.  Before your companion can fully open his car door, the man has boisterously pulled him from the vehicle in an explosive bear-hug.  He then looks at you wide-eyed and in a yelling voice recounts the basics of the story that you know already - "This is the man that saved my life by his sacrifice! He gave me his kidney!"  His shouts appear to startle the neighbors and a man down the street walking his dog.

Now remember - the surgery was over a decade ago.  And they have met every Sunday since.  So here is the question: wouldn’t you think this man's behavior odd, contrived or rehearsed, or even, in some way, inappropriate?  Yes, you would.  Why?  Because gratitude, as it deepens over time, takes a shape and expression that differs from momentary exhilaration like an old-vine Zinfandel differs from cherry Kool-aid.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Real Churches & Fake Ones

"The fact that some churches become dysfunctional should be grieved but is not a surprise to those who truly live in community.  True community is always messy, for it seeks life in the friendship of embodied living persons.  A church with no discord, a church that has climbed to the mount beyond the possibility of dysfunction, is no longer a community but an ideal facade where the preaching becomes only principles and worship just Muzak.  
There is no way to avoid discord, and the Christian leader that wants community without discord wants not true community but to drug himself with a needle of the ideal to the vein.  The leader who wants the ideal of community does not want community at all, for the ideal is community without the humanity of physical bodies in relationship.  The leader who wants the ideal community has turned community into an idol."  

- Andrew RootBonhoeffer As Youth Worker

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Devotional Prayer

Good Friday Prayer

Oh Christ, You are the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. 
You were sent from Heaven through a virgin womb to be our manna in a barren desert.
You, Who were anointed with burial oil at Your birth and again at Holy Week when You walked through Jerusalem smelling of a spiced tomb. 
By the sweat of Your brow you labored to feed Your bride the bread of Your own flesh, great drops as of blood falling to the ground, crying out to God, not for vengeance, but mercy - Father, forgive them.
At the sound of Your coming judgment You did not hide, but welcomed those who sought You with torches and weapons.  You were driven out of the garden by their fiery swords. And on that day, You surely died for us.  
You became shamefully naked and were found in the middle of the trees.  
But by Your death, we were clothed from on high.
Now men may once again walk with their Lord in Paradise, as You promised the thief at Your side.
You took our place on the altar, as the ram whose horns were caught in the briars.  You took our curse upon Your head with a crown of thistles and thorns of iron pierced Your hands and feet. 
On the wooden cross, that sharp iron was redeemed as if to float in the flowing streams and we who were lost and sinking deep were drawn out and returned to You.
By Your cross our bitter waters have been made sweet.
You were suspended in midair, between Heaven and Earth, our bridge; the Mediator between God and men.
Blood and water flowed from the rock of Your split side and from the cursed labor pain of Your belly, the Church was born of water and blood; Your Bride from Your rib.
Our first father Adam failed to look after the woman You gave him, but You remembered Mary and made provision for her even as You died on that tree, where the centurion's eyes were opened to understand good and evil.
You were lifted up like Moses’ brass serpent, so that he and every fatal sinner might look to You and be healed.  And it is by Your blood in the sign of the cross on our door frames, that our judgment passes over us. 
Like Moses between Aaron and Hur on the hilltop and like Samson between the pillars, You stretched Your arms wide to sacrifice Yourself and deliver God's people, gaining us the victory.
At Golgotha, You tread upon the skull of death and under Your pierced heel the head of the serpent was crushed.
Precious Jesus, You have made the Cross to be our Tree of Life, blooming with the fruit of Your own body, which by glad faith, we take, eat, and live.
You have made every day Good Friday, for  every day we live in the blessed joy of Your bitter Passion and death, the remedy of our sin. 
So we join our hearts and voices in the angel song:
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise, now and forevermore.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Art, Music, Creation, Difference, Violence, Harmony, and the Trinity

"Creation is the work of a dynamic, three-personed God and the members of the Trinity enjoy an eternal giving and receiving among one another. The doctrine of the Trinity informs us of both the personality and the dynamism of God - qualities that are suggested in the ancient term applied to the Trinity - perichoresis. It refers to the mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity by extension perichoresis can be used to refer to God's relationship to the world whereby all things exist in him and through him; in him we live and move and have our being... why move?  Are we dancing when we have our being?
All of creation is somehow engaged in the life of the trinity is well.  John 17 in particular comes to mind where we read that in our growth in Christ God indwells us and we indwell Him.  So Father Son and Holy Spirit are dancing around each other and the Christian life is our entry into that dance.
Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart notes that while God was under no necessity to create, the act of creation flows out of the infinite love that's experienced by the members of the Trinity.  Hart writes:
"God's gracious action in creation belongs from the first to that delight, pleasure, and regard that the Trinity enjoys from eternity as an outward and unnecessary expression of that love.  Thus creation must be received before all else as a gift and beauty."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is Worldliness?

“Modernity presents an interlocking system of values that has invaded and settled within the psyche of every person. Modernity is simply unprecedented in its power to remake human appetites, think processes, and values. It is, to put it in biblical terms, the worldliness of Our Time. For worldliness is that system of values and beliefs, behaviors and expectations, in any given culture that have at their center the fallen human being and that relegate to their periphery any thought about God.
Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd. Modernity is worldliness, and it has concealed its values so adroitly in the abundance, the comfort, and the wizardry of our age that even those who call themselves the people of God seldom recognize them for what they are.”
David F. WellsGod in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 29.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On "Givenness" ...

"I've tended to use 'givenness' in reflecting upon the given order that God has placed in creation, but creation also has a 'gift-quality' about it.  It's very existence doesn't need to be.
When I was in Sunday School as a kid, the first theological definition I can remember receiving was 'grace is unmerited favor'.  And we usually think of grace as coming after our sin, and yet the existence of all creation is an unmerited favor.  We didn't have to wait to sin to receive God's unmerited favor.
When we receive a great gift, we're delighted in the gift, but we're also delighted in the generosity of the Giver.  And so it is with the reception of a powerful work of art.
When I hear a thoughtful and attentive performance of a carefully crafted piece of music or when I watch a masterfully constructed film, I often have a sense of gratitude, not just to the performers or composer or director - but a gratitude to God as well; gratitude to live in a world where such joys are possible.
The gratitude that is felt by recipients of a gift typically resonates with the delight that is known by the Giver of the gift.  And that is a pattern built into creation."

- Ken Myers

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Perils of Exegetical Preaching

"The challenge for us who want to exegete the hair on a flea; we want to extract and reduce and deconstruct the rose and then tape it back together and pretend that it's a rose ... it's not!  You don't invite people into a morgue.  You invite them into a church to see a resurrection. You don't want to show them an autopsy on the text!"

- Dr Reg Grant, chair of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary