Archive for December, 2008

Key to sanity

Posted: December 31, 2008 in Uncategorized

I’ve just begun listening to Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton during my commute and am really enjoying it. Chesterton says lots of quotable things but this caught my attention:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; – p.17

Chesterton fleshes this out quite a bit but I stop here because it reinforces what I’ve been reading in Borgmann (the subject of my last post). Borgmann claims reality is made up of both structure and contingency. Structure is the stuff of science (social and natural science) but contingency is what makes every person and every oak tree unique, it makes the world unpredictable and interesting. It adds weight and mystery.

He argues our information technology gains its power by reducing all things to the binary bit, an elegant representation of the world’s structure but one that fails to preserve the contingency of real things. Interacting with the physical world there is a beauty and mystery that commands respect. It is much easier to ignore a cassette tape than a live musician. This may indeed be a key to keeping us healthy and grounded in reality. As Chesterton also says, all circles are infinite but some are much larger than others.

Photo by Ennor

Photo by Ennor

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Remember the old Memorex commercials like this one featuring Ella Fitzgerald?

Having just finished the book, Holding on to Reality, on the nature of information, I’ve been reflecting on the live or Memorex question. Specifically does it matter if we watch a game in person or on TV? Does it matter if our music comes from a CD (or Pandora) and not a live performer?

Having just traveled from Illinois to Massachusetts and back, I was struck by the beauty and power of the landscape. While these qualities may be suggested in HD images, the effect hardly compares to physically traveling through them. As we move into 2009, I think it would be helpful to reflect on the Memorex question and think critically about how we appropriate all the information available to us in this information age.

Quote Unquote

Posted: December 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

Continuing to prep for my upcoming OT class, I came across this quote:

Creation faith does not, in the first instant, invite to speculation or explanation. It invites awe, and gratitude that life – Israel’s life, human life – is situated in the middle of a reliable generosity that precedes all human effort. Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p.156.

Of course the Creator’s generosity was not exhausted in creation but taken to new heights by the sending of Jesus. I’ve been struggling to feel very joyful this Advent for several reasons and appreciate this reminder that although creation has been damaged by the fall – there is still much in our world to occasion praise of our generous and powerful God.

photo by CaptPiper

photo by CaptPiper

Fasting for Advent

Posted: December 10, 2008 in church, Current Events
Tags: , , ,

I think fasting may be a helpful first step in repenting of our individual and collective sins that have resulted in this financial crisis. One thing I’ve heard a lot in church is that fasting can mean abstaining from any regular activity for a period of time (media is often mentioned) for the purpose of focusing that time on prayer. While I think that such alternative “fasts” may be helpful – I think it is important that those who can actually fast from food.

Not eating causes us to face our limitations as creatures, teaches us to focus on what we really need, and it makes us actually weak. Personally, it helps me remember that we are to hunger after righteousness and gives meaning to the word hunger. Practicing fasting also helps me learn patience and has helped me understand some of the connections between my emotions and my body.

A couple of cautions, first fasting should not be seen simply as a means to get something nor should it we think of it as a way to force God to respond to us. It is also not the end of our repentance but rather the beginning of turning from one way of living towards another.

I think it would be helpful if a church issued a call for a corporate fast, maybe picking a night that people usually go out (like Saturday) and asking people to come to church for a special service of prayer and fasting. I think it would be helpful if this service focused on naming and reflecting on the sins that surround us (gluttony, greed, ingratitude, etc.) and also praying for those who are and will suffer from this. A follow up step would be to work on articulating a way forward that is less prone to these sins.

This might be the season to do this. Advent is traditionally a season of fasting and reflection that we in our typical American way have converted into a season of feasting and consuming.

btw – thanks for all the comments here and on Facebook. I hope to interact with them more directly in the future.

I recently was given the privilege of seeing a draft of the proposed new vision statement for our church. It includes many good things including a commitment to live out a passion for scripture.

Something that fascinates me is how the medium we use to communicate often makes as big of a statement as the content of our message. I think that choosing to write a vision statement communicates a desire to live out best business practices and effective management. Given the different functions of church and business, I think this is at least potentially a problem.

I agree that clearly articulating who we are and where we think we are going is important for a church so I’ve been thinking of some alternative mediums that may also reinforce our passion for scripture.

One possibility is write a song or hymn like Moses & Miriam, Deborah, or Mary, mother of our Lord. Setting thoughts to music is a wonderful way to remember them and singing together is a great way to affirm our common purpose.

A second possibility is to follow Nehemiah’s example and write a communal oath to do the work God has given us. This would underscore the solemn responsibility we owe to God our savior and our judge.

A third possibility would be to write a confession or creed of what we believe to be true for our congregation. We may look to Peter’s confession in Matthew 16 or we might look to Paul’s statement about the Gospel in Romans 1. Of course creeds also recall the affirmations of the early church council and have a long history of being a churchly medium of communication.

A fourth and final alternative to vision statement is for a church to write a prayer that articulates its intention to move forward. One thinks of Jesus prayer in John 17 as a model or Paul’s prayers in his epistles such as the one in Ephesians 3. Crafting a guiding prayer for our congregation would have the advantage of acknowledging that our plans depend upon God for their success or failure.

Some may suggest that articulating the direction of our church in the form of a song, oath, confession, or prayer would be to impose ancient mediums upon a contemporary audience and thus likely to be confusing or misunderstood. I will agree that there might be aspects of these mediums that will not be readily appreciated, but I think our passion for scripture would come across loud and clear. Can the same be said for a church with a vision statement with quantifiable benchmarks?

by Per Ola Wiberg (Powi)

by Per Ola Wiberg (Powi)

Even the usually optimistic Thomas Friedman of The World is Flat fame is getting fed up with people’s (lack of) reaction to the economy. Basically his point is we (all of us) need to change our habits or this is only going to get worse.

I’ve been interested in how (or if) the church is responding to the economic crisis. I know in our church we’ve been told repeatedly not to fear and to give generously, trusting the Lord to provide even during difficult times. There is some validity to those points, perhaps especially given our local church’s severe financial difficulty but what is so obviously lacking is a call to repent.

Traditionally a call on people to repent has been the church’s first response to crisis. Given that the current crisis has deep roots in our society’s greed and indulgent lifestyle, such a call seems very warranted. One can’t help but think of Amos’ condemnation of the Israelites w/ there ivory beds and fattened calves (Amos 6:4) or his denunciation of their pride (Amos 6:8).

Has our God changed? Maybe we shouldn’t fear the stock market but shouldn’t we still fear the Lord? It seems to me we are in danger of being like the prophets who say peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14). Further, it concerns me that the church seems unable to address what is clearly a moral failing in our culture. Are we so compromised that we can’t condemn the idea of continuing to borrow our way out of trouble and looking to more consumption as the key to health?

If you read this, I’d be interested to hear how your church has responded. T.J. Addington thinks the crisis presents a great opportunity for the church, one he thinks the church is not prepared for.