On this election day: My favorite photograph taken of the outgoing president.
It seems to me that one of the reasons a voluntary, and market-driven society produces so much anxiety, is that relationships are constantly being negotiated. As the negotiation proceeds between the “self contained” personal contracts of two “individuals,” either party is free to walk away (disconnect) at any time if the “other” does not live up to their contractual standards. Given human nature, the only thing left to hold “individuals” together is self interest or money. The individual alone is responsible for his/her own destiny. No one ever has to “make do” with situations that the individual perceives as hindering personal destiny and “self fulfillment.” Even those who are willing to “make do” are left behind by those who are not—without this it is impossible to build any sustaining social fabric. That would require sacrifice and faith—both contradictory to the logic and practice of individualism and the cold free market.
This also applies to how we negotiate with the competing authorities that vie for our allegiances. We become anxious because we don’t know who to trust and follow, so we end up following ourselves and our own desires. Otherwise we would feel lost. We do feel lost.
Still, we are haunted by a belief that there is something other than “ourselves” that might have claim over us and our lives. With nothing to trust our anxiety will only continue.
God bless those without an option.
Ideas, thought-making, therapy, and hyper-activity can not solve this constant tension. Our situation is akin to a snake eating its own tail.
An Assyrian girl and priest sing the Lord’s Prayer in Georgia as Pope Francis and Patriarch Ilia II, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, meet and pray together.
Bono (of the band U2) recently discussed the Psalms with Eugene Peterson in an interview published in conjunction with a new spiritual formation initiative at Fuller Seminary. Fascinating stuff. I enjoyed. If nothing else, Fuller sure does know their audience.
In the midst of the interview, Bono expresses that he finds “a lot of dishonesty” in modern Christian music. Which, of course, is probably true if your exposure to Christians who make music is limited to mainstream Evangelical subcultures. He says, “I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful… gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you, the truth…And that truthfulness …. will blow things apart.”
Don’t get me wrong Bono…I get it, but I do hope you get to meet some more Christians soon, apart from the folks that you (in particular) have influenced the most. There are a lot of us out there who admire, eat, and stew over the kind of truth and beauty you hint at in this interview. I know you know that, I’m just fulfilling my moral duty to tell you the truth and point you toward some of the realism you desire. Here’s a playlist. A few places to start your education. Let me know if you need more.
The successor to politics will be propaganda, not in the sense of a message or ideology, but the impact of the whole technology of the times. So politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favour of his image, because the image will be so much more powerful than he could ever be.
-Marshall McLuhan in 1972 inteview
The next edition of the Christ Church Davis prayer book has arrived! This edition covers the seasons of Epiphany through Easter. It contains weekly Scripture readings, Psalms, artwork related to the readings, and a prayer litany for each week between January 10 and April 17, 2016. Readings for everyday during Holy Week and services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday are also included.
The Scripture readings follow the cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary and include the sermon passage for each week and a summary of the major themes. It is my prayer that this book is a easy way to access formative Christian practices and encourage formative common worship that engages Holy Scripture and the historic language of the Church.
The drama of the world today is the result not only of the absence of God but also and above all of the absence of humankind, of the loss of…human destiny and identity, and of a certain capacity to explain the fundamental needs that dwell in the human heart…
It is not possible to raise the question of God calmly, with a tranquil heart, because this would be to give an answer without a question…We need a total response that comprehends and saves the entire horizon of the self and our existence. We possess within us a yearning for the infinite, and infinite sadness, a nostalgia-the nostos algos (home sickness) of Odysseus-which is satisfied only by an equally infinite response. The human heart proves to be the sign of a Mystery, that is, of something or someone who is an infinite response. Outside the Mystery, the needs for happiness, love, and justice never meet a response that fully satisfies the human heart. Life would be an absurd desire if this response did not exist…
Only wonder leads to knowledge…Wonder comes before all categories; it is what leads me to seek, to open myself up; it is what makes the answer-not a verbal or conceptual answer-possible for me. If wonder opens me up as a question, the only response is the encounter, and only with the encounter is my thirst quenched. And with nothing else is it quenched more.
-Pope Francis (as Jorge Mario Bergoglio)
The sonorous cadences, the elegant repetitions and antitheses, of Cranmer’s prose may strike some as cold; we recall the Puritans’ complaints at the Savoy Conference: ‘A brief transient touch and away, is not enough to warm the heart aright.’ (Samuel) Johnson, however, did not need his heart warmed, but rather his racing mind calmed. For him, and for many who have felt themselves at the mercy of chaotic forces from within or without, the style of the prayer book has healing powers. It provides equitable balance when we ourselves have none.
-Alan Jacobs in The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography
Our pastor has a secret weapon. On a weekly basis, he consults a treasure trove of biblical commentary material directly from the Fathers of the Early Church, via the wonders of his Logos Bible Software. The ability of this technology to search such a large body of written material for relevant commentary is quite amazing. More amazing, is the way in which much of what he finds is devoid of the stark contrasts between theology and pastoral exhortation that is often the case in modern biblical scholarship. Many of these Church Fathers were pastoral theologians in the best sense of the term…poetic, comprehensible, intelligent, and full of colorful insight. Equally concerned with faithfulness toward the text and faithfulness toward their flocks, free from the dualisms between the existential and transcendent. At the same time, challenging and (sometimes) downright strange. Beautiful.
Pastor Eric turned to me today in our shared office space and exclaimed something like, “Basil the Great, what a genius. A pastor and theologian without separation, connecting his study to the direct concerns of his flock! Listen to this…” He went on to quote this passage from a letter/sermon that Basil wrote to a colleague who had lost his son.
Be perfectly assured of this, that though the reasons for what is ordained by God are beyond us, yet always what is arranged for us by him who is wise and who loves us is to be accepted, be it ever so grievous to endure. He himself knows how he is appointing what is best for each and why the terms of life that he fixes for us are unequal. There exists some reason incomprehensible to us why some are sooner carried far away from us, and some are left a longer while behind to bear the burdens of this painful life. So we should always adore his lovingkindness and not express discontent, remembering those great and famous words of the great athlete Job, when he had seen ten children at one table, in one short moment, crushed to death, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” As the Lord thought good so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvelous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, those who demonstrate similar good deeds shall receive a similar reward. We have not lost the boy; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travelers on a journey, hurrying on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest, another arrives, another hurries on, but one and the same end awaits them all. He has outstripped us on the way, but we shall all travel the same road, and the same hostel awaits us all. -St. Basil the Great
The loss of a beloved family member has also colored the reality of my immediate family over the course of the last two months. Basil’s reflections rushed forward to meet me, in a similar circumstance, centuries after they were written. This kind of congruence over time is one of the absolute beauties of our Christian faith. The eternal Church is in communion with the eternal present of God through Christ and His Spirit. Our core congruence over time is simply astounding, outlasting emperors and kingdoms. Our solidarity with this congruence is perhaps one of our best hidden apologetics. Our solidarity with those who walked before us is certainly one of our best hidden comforts.
In the midst of this passage Basil reflects on the example of Job. An Old Testament saint whom Pastor Eric will be preaching about this Sunday, just as Basil did approximately 1700 years ago. A saint who, in every age, has pointed the Christian toward the Christ of Hebrews chapters 1 and 2. Which is the true test of any saint.
Since I am coming to that holy room,Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,I shall be made thy music; as I comeI tune the instrument here at the door…I joy, that in these straits I see my west;For, though their currents yield return to none,What shall my west hurt me? As west and eastIn all flat maps (and I am one) are one,So death doth touch the resurrection…
We think that Paradise and Calvary,Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.So, in his purple wrapp’d, receive me, Lord;By these his thorns, give me his other crown;And as to others’ souls I preach’d thy word,Be this my text, my sermon to mine own…
XVII. Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris. Now, this bell tolling softly far another, says to me: Thou must die.
The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all…
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee…
If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
My God, my God, is this one of thy ways of drawing light out of darkness, to make him for whom this bell tolls, now in this dimness of his sight, to become a superintendent, an overseer, a bishop, to as many as hear his voice in this bell, and to give us a confirmation in this action? Is this one of thy ways, to raise strength out of weakness, to make him who cannot rise from his bed, nor stir in his bed, come home to me, and in this sound give me the strength of healthy and vigorous instructions? O my God, my God, what thunder is not a well-tuned cymbal, what hoarseness, what harshness, is not a clear organ, if thou be pleased to set thy voice to it? And what organ is not well played on if thy hand be upon it? Thy voice, thy hand, is in this sound, and in this one sound I hear this whole concert. I hear thy Jacob call unto his sons and say, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: he says, That which I am now, you must be then. I hear thy Moses telling me, and all within the compass of this sound, This is the blessing wherewith I bless you before my death; this, that before your death, you would consider your own in mine. I hear thy prophet saying to Hezekiah, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live: he makes use of his family, and calls this a setting of his house in order, to compose us to the meditation of death. I hear thy apostle saying, I think it meet to put you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must go out of this tabernacle: this is the publishing of his will, and this bell is our legacy, the applying of his present condition to our use. I hear that which makes all sounds music, and all music perfect; I hear thy Son himself saying, Let not your hearts be troubled;
But, O my God, my God, since heaven is glory and joy, why do not glorious and joyful things lead us, induce us to heaven?…
Why hast thou changed thine old way, and carried us by the ways of discipline and mortification, by the ways of mourning and lamentation, by the ways of miserable ends and miserable anticipations…
O ETERNAL and most gracious God, who hast been pleased to speak to us, not only in the voice of nature, who speaks in our hearts, and of thy word, which speaks to our ears, but in the
speech of speechless creatures, in Balaam’s ass, in the speech of unbelieving men, in the confession of Pilate, in the speech of the devil himself, in the recognition and attestation of thy Son, I humbly accept thy voice in the sound of this sad and funeral bell. And first, I bless thy glorious name, that in this sound and voice I can hear thy instructions, in another man’s to consider mine own condition; and to know, that this bell which tolls for another, before it come to ring out, may take me in too. As death is the wages of sin it is due to me; as death is the end of sickness it belongs to me; and though so disobedient a servant as I may be afraid to die, yet to so merciful a master as thou I cannot be afraid to come; and therefore into thy hands, O my God, I commend my spirit, a surrender which I know thou wilt accept, whether I live or die…
…even in this dissolution, that though the body be going the way of all flesh, yet that soul is going the way of all saints. When thy Son cried out upon the cross, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? he spake not so much in his own person, as in the person of the church, and of his afflicted members, who in deep distresses might fear thy forsaking. This patient, O most blessed God, is one of them; in his behalf, and in his name, hear thy Son crying to thee, My God, (Ps. 31:5 ; 139) my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and forsake him not; but with thy left hand lay his body in the grave (if that be thy determination upon him), and with thy right hand receive his soul into thy kingdom, and unite him and us in one communion of saints. Amen.
from Death’s Duel
There now hangs that sacred body upon the cross, rebaptized in his own tears, and sweat, and embalmed in his own blood alive. There are those bowels of compassion which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their sight, so as the sun, ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Son of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soul (which was never out of his Father’s hands) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father’s hands; for though to this God our Lord belonged these issues of death, so that considered in his own contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery which they had made upon his sacred body issued his soul; but emisit, he gave up the ghost; and as God breathed a soul into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soul into God, into the hands of God.
There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that kingdom which He hath prepared for you with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. Amen.
And soonest our best men with thee do go…One short sleep past, we wake eternallyAnd death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.