Category: Books

Church for the 21st century?

This is possibly the most revolutionary, revelatory and important book about the church and mission I have ever read. If you are interested in how the 21st century church can become a missionary community in first world countries, this book can teach us new ways, and inspire us to new efforts. If you are tired … Continue reading Church for the 21st century?
Syndicated from the Way?

Loading

Rest in Peace

Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not my own, necessarily, although I do think about that more than I probably ought to. But just death as a phenomenon. Both of my grandmothers have died in the last six months. Several people in my orbit could well be approaching this threshold. I just returned from a pastors conference about death, funerals and the Christian hope. Death has been a hard thing to avoid lately.
For most of my life, I have stubbornly rehearsed the familiar Christian maxim that death is the final enemy to be defeated, the destroyer of human flourishing to be fought against with everything we have. Death is bad, full stop. I still feel like this most days. But of course death is also the most natural thing you could hope to find. Everyone dies. Everything dies. Christianity has always insisted upon the unnaturalness of death but we must acknowledge that this is, on the face of it, a thoroughly counterintuitive claim in light of observable reality. It’s not hard to imagine how some would write off post-mortem hope as so much wish projection and fear assuagement—”projecting our paltry selves ad infinitum,” as Christian Wiman puts it.
At the conference this week, a friend commented in one of the forums that they don’t spend much time thinking about the post-mortem component of the Christian hope anymore. Who can say what, if anything, lies beyond? Maybe what comes after death is something like a sabbath rest—the cessation of struggle and pain and conflicted pursuits. Maybe death is when we finally get a really long break from our tormented selves. We Christians tie ourselves in knots trying to do enough, believe enough, think clearly enough to prepare ourselves for eternity. What if it’s all a bunch of puritanical striving toward nothing. What if, in the end, we are destined to simply rest in peace?
A theology reading group that I’m a part of has been reading Dale Allison’s Night Comes over the past few months. It’s a book about death—about what might become of us, what we might hope for, and what death might mean. In keeping with the theme of the book (endings), I skipped to the end of the book even though our group is still in the middle. Allison’s last few paragraphs caught me off guard, initially. And then, after a few more readings, they began to resonate a bit more deeply.

Although some might find this a tad morbid, part of me, with a sort of reverent curiosity, now looks forward to [death]. Most of the time, to be sure, life is full, and I’m all for staying with the familiar as long as possible. On the usual morning I eagerly anticipate the coming day, and on the usual evening I return thanks for most of what’s happened.
On occasion, however, the adventure seems stale, and it’s not so easy to feel grateful. The world, which is ever full of wonder, isn’t the problem. It’s rather me. I repeatedly resolve to do better, and I fail. I set out to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful, and my attention wanders. I aspire to love God with all my heart and soul and mind, and my neighbor as myself, but I get distracted.
My incessant failures are more than frustrating, and sometimes I grow weary of myself. My fatigue can be such that I long to quit this stage for some other stage, to wake up in a new and different world, to swap my current self for something better, to undergo whatever will turn Romans 7—“I can will what is right, but I cannot do it”—into nothing but a bad memory. As it became evident long ago that this isn’t going to happen in this world, I don’t always mind the aches and pains and the memory glitches that attend aging. They remind me that night comes. My hope is that light shines in the darkness.

Maybe all of us, in our more honest moments, feel this way. Or, maybe not. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s only introspective melancholic types who think along these lines. I admire those whose whose conviction about what comes next seems unshakeable. I really do. I have never been able to manufacture such certainty about the topography of the afterlife and I’m not sure I ever will. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus said a mustard seed of faith was enough.
But I, too, hope that light shines in the darkness. Desperately so. I long for life where the reality of Romans 7 recedes into a shadowy and unremembered past. And I am still convinced that the bare existence of this hope is itself powerfully suggestive of what might lie on the other side of death’s door. The good, the true, the beautiful—these cannot just be pleasant and useful fictions to keep our overactive prefrontal cortexes occupied for a few decades on a chunk of rock hurtling through space. They somehow have to mean more than that.
They point, surely, to the God who has set eternity in the human heart and who finally offers rest, wholeness, consummation, forgiveness, peace and, yes, even life, unnaturally eternal and eternally unnatural.

Syndicated from Rumblings

7 Essential Steps to Declutter, Downsize, and Rightsize Your Books and Anything Else

In a recent survey, one reader suggested I write an article on “downsizing.” Hmmm, I confess that at first I mentally set that idea aside since I don’t have much experience with downsizing and wasn’t sure I had anything to offer. Although I helped my mom downsize from her house to a condo, then to … Continue reading 7 Essential Steps to Declutter, Downsize, and Rightsize Your Books and Anything Else
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

Love’s Way: Aging, Respect, and Solutions for the Whole Family

My mother always said she didn’t want to live with any of her children. After my father died, my mom decided the family home was too big for her and moved into a condo. Then some years later she decided to move into an independent housing complex for seniors, and there she would tell people, … Continue reading Love’s Way: Aging, Respect, and Solutions for the Whole Family
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

On Fallibility

This week, I started watching the Polish Netflix original series 1983 which imagines a future where the Iron Curtain is still standing and Poland is a police state. I’m only a few episodes in, so the jury’s still out, but there was an interesting scene in the first episode where Katejan Skowron, a young law student, is being grilled in an exam by his mentor and professor, Janusz Zurawski. Young Katejan has been well-drilled in propaganda: Law and Party are all, and both exist for the sake of justice. “Ah,” says Zurawski, “but you’ve forgotten to take one thing into account: human fallibility. It’s human beings who create laws and human beings who form political parties. And human beings are fallible.”
The fallibility of human beings and the political systems and structures they create is not likely news to anyone with a pulse these days. The current US president is a daily, blustering, contradicting, tweeting reminder of this, but he is only the most obvious example. Political dissatisfaction and anger are the norm in many parts of Europe these days. 2019 will be the year that both my home province of Alberta and the nation of Canada go to the polls and neither the provincial NDP or the Federal liberals are terribly popular at the moment. Human fallibility, both in leaders and in those who elect them, has never really lacked for evidence.
I was consequently intrigued to read David Bentley Hart’s somewhat-tongue-in-cheek (maybe?) essay called “Anarcho-Monarchism” in A Splendid Wickedness and Other Essays. He’d prefer a benevolent monarch, it seems, to a democratically elected marketer/liar-in-chief. So would I, many days. But monarchs are so rarely benevolent. Safer, probably, to stick with democracy even if, as DBH notes, “tragically—tragically—we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another.”
At any rate, I chuckled out loud as I read these few paragraphs from DBH’s essay. They seem a rather depressing mirror and indictment of our political moment:

If one were to devise a political system from scratch, knowing something of history and a great deal about human nature, the sort of person that one would chiefly want, if possible, to exclude from power would be the sort of person who most desires it, and who is most willing to make a great effort to acquire it…
Yet our system obliges us to elevate to office precisely those persons who have the ego-besotted effrontery to ask us to do so; it is rather like being compelled to cede the steering wheel to the drunkard in the back seat loudly proclaiming that he knows how to get us there in half the time. More to the point, since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world—the world that cannot be—ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Book Review: We Pray With Her

We Pray with Her is a collection of 100 reflections and almost 50 prayers written by United Methodist clergy women under 40. Each entry is brief, which makes it nice for either daily devotional reading or an occasional dip. Here are some of the things I love most about this book: The writers consistently use…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

I Don’t Want to Be My Own God

Most Christians I know have a complicated relationship with the doctrine of hell. Many have grown up with a caricature, with gruesome images of an eternal fiery torture chamber with a horns-and-pitchfork devil presiding over the conflagration. This is deemed intolerable by most. Indeed, I am highly suspicious of those who retain this view. They often seem a bit too eager, not to mention selective, in their appreciation of God’s judgment. The rest of us struggle with hell in various ways. Those who accept the possibility of hell wonder how a merciful God can allow it. Those who reject hell outright often still implicitly long for, even demand, some kind of a final justice for those who have done great evil. We hate the idea of hell but we can’t quite let it go. It’s complicated.
My own views of hell have certainly changed over time. I grew up imbibing a pretty severe view of hell—not as terrifying as the caricature described above, perhaps, but still enough to send a shiver down my youthful spine. The older I got, the more I found this view intolerable. I meandered through various approaches to hell before settling, as many do, upon a view most famously articulated by C.S. Lewis in his allegory, The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis portrays hell not as a medieval torture chamber but a grey town where people slowly, but surely are extinguished by losing interest in heaven and isolating themselves from each other and God through their own choices.
Hell, for Lewis, was God’s final ratification of human freedom. I liked this view very much. It made sense of much of the biblical narrative which places great emphasis upon human choice. More importantly, it distanced God from the torture chamber. I had always struggled enormously with how a good God could allow something like hell, whatever it looked like, to exist. How could any eternal punishment be morally commensurate with a finite amount of sin? There’s only so much mischief one can get up to in a handful of decades, right? And how could anyone enjoy the delights of heaven knowing there was a place like hell around to foul up eternity? Conceiving of hell as God’s grudging acquiescence to human obstinance and faithlessness seemed, if not ideal, then certainly a better option than Dante’s Inferno.
But is it really? I’ve been reading Dale Allison’s fine book Night Comes over the past few weeks. In a chapter called “Hell and Sympathy” he’s been poking a few holes in what he calls “the modern view of hell” popularized by Lewis and embraced by so many. Perhaps surprisingly, Allison doesn’t think nearly as highly of human freedom as I have for most of my life:

Yet when human freedom is front and center, God moves to the wings. In the modern myth, our names are on the marquee, and our destiny is up to us. What we make of ourselves here determines what we are to become there.
Should we, however, desire starring roles and such Pelagian freedom? Although not an old-fashioned Calvinist, I think it’s obvious that all of us are broken creatures, that we are selfish and self-deluded, and that we constantly abuse our freedom, which is so often illusory. Because of this, I find little use for a deity who lets me decide my fate. I don’t want to be my own God. Nor do I want the Supreme Being to respect my alleged autonomy no matter what, just as I don’t want the police to respect the autonomy of the despondent guy threatening to jump off the top of the high-rise. I rather desire, for myself and for everyone else, rescue. Our decisions need to be undone, not confirmed. We need to be saved despite ourselves. Even if we’re allowed, in our freedom, to kindle the fires of hell and to forge its chains, isn’t it God’s part to break our chains and put out the fire?

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this, to be honest. I still think that human freedom is a massive part of the biblical narrative. I still think that the things that we choose to do and believe matter immensely. I can’t make sense out of so much of Scripture without a framework in place that asserts a deeply meaningful human freedom. And yet, I find Allison’s reflections here compelling. I don’t want my name on the marquee. I often think that freedom is too great a burden to entrust to creatures as fragile and stupid as us. We abuse and misuse it so terribly. We are, as Allison says, all over the place:

Human beings aren’t unidirectional vectors but bundles of contradictions. Saints are sinners; sinners are saints. Everyone is Jekyll; everyone is Hyde. And everyone is in between. We advance toward God one moment and sound retreat the next, and most of the time we’re stuck in the middle…
The modern hell, however, posits that in the world to come, we keep moving in the direction we’re already headed. Our momentum, so to speak, carries us up to heaven or down to hell. Yet what if, like me, you keep moving in circles?

What if, indeed?
At the end of it all, my misgivings here may simply reflect a pretty typical biographical trajectory. Freedom was attractive to me when I was younger because, well, young people think a great deal of freedom. The world stood before me, a blank slate, ready to be imprinted with all of my blessed uniqueness and autonomy. But then I lived a few years. And I recognized how prone I am to wander, to misuse the freedom I so treasured in my youth. Now I’m not quite so eager for my choices to be ratified by God for all eternity. I need some undoing, some rescue, someone to refuse to respect my miserable autonomy. Someone for whom mercy triumphs over judgement. Someone who said, with his dying breath, “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Someone whose momentum overrides and overrules my own.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Podcast: The Making of Crucifixion of the Warrior God with Tony Jones

Dan and Tony talk about Greg’s books Crucifixion of the Warrior God and Cross Vision. Tony reveals what it was like to work with Greg, what the publishing industry is like right now, and what prospective authors can do to publish their own book.  Tony’s recent book is available here: ...
The post Podcast: The Making of Crucifixion of the Warrior God with Tony Jones appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

On Excessive Enthusiasm

It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.
— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light
——
Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise.
I don’t know if Wiman is right in his claim that calling comes along with a strong inner resistance to it. It certainly resonates with my own story (I have rarely been accused of “excessive enthusiasm”), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It could just mean that birds of a feather flock together. It also jives with a few biblical figures—Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul, and even Jesus could plausibly be construed as exhibiting a kind of reluctance in the face of what God had set before them. But of course, most of us can think of people who are both enthusiastic and credible—people whose lives and leadership are characterized by a settled, joyful confidence and conviction about what they are to be and do in the world. I admire these people. Truly. There is nothing inherently virtuous about reluctance.
For me, the interesting sentence in the quote above is this one:

Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it?”

Ah, yes. That’s the challenge.
I don’t speak for all pastors, I know, but on my more charitable days I assume that most of us embraced the call, however reluctantly, because we were hungry for God and for the things of God. This isn’t experienced in the same way by every person, of course, but most of us were, once upon a time, taken hold of by Christ and his way in the world, and felt compelled to respond to this, whether in writing or speaking or forming and serving communities of faith or whatever. But then, “the call” came to seem like something less than it once was. The existential longing that once drove us to Christ and his church gave way to budget meetings and “church revisioning” conferences and schedules and planning and administrative details that seem never to end and half-empty worship services and doom-and-gloom sociological prognostications about the future of the church. It can be very easy to lose yourself and what once animated you in the strong current of “business as usual.” Nothing so reliably kills existential urgency as “business as usual.”
Whether we are reluctant or excessively enthusiastic or somewhere in between, I suspect that we all have moments in our lives and callings where we need to be reminded of and reanimated by the urgency, mystery, and excitement of what once drove us. Perhaps it is a conversation or a crisis, an unbidden moment of clarity, an unmerited act of mercy. Perhaps it’s a flash of light along the road, a still small voice in moments when we were quiet enough to actually listen. Who knows, it may even be a budget meeting or a visioning process. The risen Christ has all kinds of creative ways to remind and reroute his wayward children.
Or maybe it’s a few sentences on a page that call you back to what was once true, what you feel ought always to be true. A few sentences that remind you that life is, truly, a beautiful, terrifying, holy mystery. Like these, for example, from Wiman:

And all for what? Those moments of mysterious intrusion, that feeling of collusion with eternity, of life and language riled into one wild charge.

Ah yes, the feeling of “collusion with eternity.” The “one wild charge” that once lit a fire in our souls. A feeling and a charge that could almost drive one to excessive levels of enthusiasm.

Syndicated from Rumblings

The Lord’s Insight

I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways:

One obvious answer is God—the end, in both senses of the word, of all human longing. One devious answer is death—“an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things,” as Freud put it. One fashionable answer is that there is no answer at all: it’s all just nature, genes rotely ramming home their mechanical codes one by one. We want because dissatisfaction equals survival: we are designed to improve and impart our hunger, breeding descendants with ever-keener teeth.
If we are conscious and honest, each of these answers will likely seem right at various times of our lives. If we are conscious and honest, each of them, at another time, will seem wrong.

At this point, Wiman shifts gears a bit and muses about the soul and whether or not such it is even possible to imagine an irreducible human identity that survives death and has continuity to our “selves” and the stories they have contributed to. He quotes Anglican priest and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne who says that it is perfectly coherent belief “that the faithful God will not allow [our souls] to be lost, but will preserve it in the divine memory.”

That we might be remembered: what an almost impossible thought that is. That there is a consciousness capacious enough, merciful enough, to recall each of us in our entireties just as we recall our own fragile but meaningful moments. That our lives might be the Lord’s insight.

I’ll confess that sometimes Christian Wiman writes sentences so arrestingly beautiful that I’m tempted to quote them even though I’m not entirely sure I know what they mean. That last one, for example. I like the idea that my life might be something like “the Lord’s insight.” And that yours might be, too. I can’t say for sure what Wiman means, but it strikes me as an aspirational phrase of the best sort—like the sort of thing that you can’t not want to be true.
It brings to mind another beautiful passage that I barely understand but somehow still love and long to be true:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
— 1 Corinthians 13:12

Syndicated from Rumblings

Three Friends, Three Books

Today I’m excited to introduce three books from three friends that are making an impact on me. Each touches me in a different way: poetry that stirs my heart, mind, and soul; missionary stories that inspire me; and a devotional book that I’m already planning to use next year. The first excerpt is a poem … Continue reading Three Friends, Three Books
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

Resurrecting Blossoms

Christian Wiman is a brilliant writer—one of my favourites as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of his most recent book, He Held Radical Light and yesterday the blessed brown package showed up in the mail. I spent part of last night reading it. The man has a way of communicating the longing and haunting desire of human existence like few others that I have come across.
In the last chapter I read before trudging out the door to a meeting last night, Wiman was talking about a poem by A.R. Ammons called “Hymn.” Ammons is an atheist, apparently, but the poem is saturated with the divine. Or, at least, a hunger for the divine. You are everywhere partial and entire/You are on the inside of everything and on the outside. Wiman reflects thus on the phenomenon of godless poets inadvertently giving voice to the yearning of faith:

What is a paradox, however, is that “Hymn” is a moving invocation and celebration of God written by a poet who, in his prose, professes not to believe in God. “Hymn” is more explicit about its spiritual lineage than… poems by Oliver and Gilbert, but they all partake of a common tendency among modern artists: the art contains and expresses a faith that the artist, in the rest of his waking life, rejects. And, quite often… the art relies on, even while extending, the religious language for which the artist has no practical use and of which he is perhaps even contemptuous.
Is this a failure of art, then, since presumably a living poem ought not to rely on language that is dead at the root? Or is it a triumph of God, resurrecting blossoms from a branch that seemed irrevocably withered? If the former, how does one change one’s art? If the latter, how does one change one’s life?

I am inclined toward the latter, not least because I am attracted to Wiman’s beautiful imagery of faith and hope stubbornly emerging out of what seems dead, what some may, in fact, wish dead. I love the image of art needing to “fail” in order to give voice to what matters most to human beings. I love that it’s harder to rid ourselves of God than we may have thought, at least if we want to say anything meaningful.
And then of course, there’s that last line. What do we owe this God and his resurrection blossoms? What changes are demanded when we discover that the language we hold in contempt is the very language we desperately need? What truths ought our lives express in response to this God who sneaks in the back door, refusing to be silenced, speaking even when we are determined to shut him up and out?

Syndicated from Rumblings

Loading

Email Subscribe

Subscribe for blog posts sent to your email

Post Categories

MennoNerds on YouTube