November 19, 2018

I’m Thankful for Francis Schaeffer

Note from CM: It is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., and I’d like to take each day leading up to the holiday to share a few of the blessings I’m thankful for. I’ve decided this year to focus on some people and things that have had an impact on me personally, so you may find my list a bit quirky. Nevertheless, we each have unique factors that have shaped us and made us who we are. You’ll meet a few of mine this week.

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I’m Thankful for Francis Schaeffer

A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment.

• Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

I give thanks today for Francis Schaeffer.

As I was pondering this today, I came to the conclusion that he might have been my first guide out of the evangelical wilderness. Funny thing is, I came to know him through his writings when I was first entering evangelicalism, before I had any clue I might one day leave.

Schaeffer and his wife Edith founded L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland in 1955 in their home as a “shelter” (the meaning of l’abri) where young people could come, ask questions, and learn about the Christian faith. The L’Abri Fellowship website lists four main emphases of the ministry that developed there and spread to other branches around the world:

(1) Christianity is objectively true and that the Bible is God’s written word to mankind. This means that biblical Christianity can be rationally defended and honest questions are welcome.

(2) Because Christianity is true it speaks to all of life and not to some narrowly religious sphere and much of the material produced by L’Abri has been aimed at helping develop a Christian perspective on the arts, politics and the social sciences etc.

(3) In the area of our relationship with God, true spirituality is seen in lives which by grace are free to be fully human rather than in trying to live on some higher spiritual plane or in some grey negative way.

(4) The reality of the fall is taken seriously. Until Christ returns we and the world we live in will be affected by the disfigurement of sin. Although the place of the mind is emphasized, L’Abri is not a place for “intellectuals only”.

This overview concludes with this statement from Edith Schaeffer:

We are as concerned for living as we are for thinking and from the beginning the concern has been that the truth is as much exhibited in everyday life as it is defended in discussion. We do not do this perfectly of course but depend on the Lord to bring forth a measure of reality in our daily life.

I wouldn’t sign off on all of that, but I think you can see that there are several things here which show the profound and seminal influence Schaeffer had on my own approach to faith:

First, I appreciated the idea that questions are welcome and that people should not just simply accept dogma. The Schaeffers not only said this, but modeled it by welcoming people into their home who were seeking genuine life and spirituality, and in many cases had been hurt by force-fed religion. Though Schaeffer came across as “intellectual,” in fact the points he made were usually simple and foundational, and the fact that what I read in books was actually worked out in a community of teaching and interaction gave it a special kind of life and power.

Second, Schaeffer’s emphasis on the arts, history, and culture was a breath of fresh air in my narrow fundamentalist Bible world. Again, he wasn’t always right and he often gave only a surface perspective, but compared to the separatist “Bible only” (as interpreted through dispensationalism) greenhouse where I was planted, it seemed shockingly open and broad in its awareness of and appreciation for the world of ideas and culture. There was a humanity to it that was lacking in the black and white space where I lived. Though it took me a long, long time to escape that constricted world, thank God I did. Schaeffer did for me what, for example, folks like C.S. Lewis did for so many others: he cracked the door open to a God-soaked world and what Michael Spencer called “Christian humanism.”

Third, I learned from him that true spirituality is a matter of Christian freedom in Christ as faith works through love. In a very real way, Schaeffer prepared me for engaging Luther (who reveled in Christian freedom) many years later. Note the phrase in point three above: “true spirituality is seen in lives which by grace are free to be fully human.” I think you’ve probably heard that said in several different ways here on Internet Monk. I can thank Schaeffer for introducing me to that perspective.

Now, let me be honest and say that there are many things not to like about Francis Schaeffer. Son Franky has written of his father’s dark moods, his anger, and his abusive behavior within the family. Francis Schaeffer is also one of the leaders responsible for evangelicalism becoming a culture war religion in the U.S., beginning in the late 1970s. Because of the emphasis that Schaeffer and others adopted, Michael Spencer was able to make this observation:

Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.

And then there is this: Francis Schaeffer had strong roots in fundamentalism. His first church, the Bible Presbyterian Church, was a breakaway fundamentalist branch founded by Carl McIntyre, the notorious fundamentalist and anti-Communist radio preacher. Schaeffer went to Europe on a dogmatic mission — to dissuade pastors and church leaders from the “heresies” of Karl Barth. It was only when he began to fully comprehend what he called the “ugliness” of his denomination and the way churches were splitting and separating in vividly unloving ways that he took a different course. However, when I heard him speak in the early 1980s, he sounded exactly like some cranky fundamentalist zealot associated with the likes of McIntyre. Thankfully, Francis Schaeffer was able to temper and even disavow a lot of that at L’Abri and in most of his foundational writings, but in some ways it never left him and it contributed to his stridency in the culture wars.

I owe a great deal to Schaeffer, who was able, especially in the 1960s and early 70s, to challenge the lack of love and anti-creational separatism in evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity, especially as it impacted seeking young people. But let’s admit it, he was a fundamentalist at heart.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to downplay my gratitude for how God used Francis Schaeffer as an integral part of my own spiritual formation. Early on in my adult life, he began to show me that life is bigger, richer, fuller, more God-soaked, and more relational than I could imagine.

If you’ve never read much Schaeffer, I’d suggest beginning with True Spirituality and The Mark of the Christian. These two books teach the view of spirituality and community that he came to embrace, directly countering the weaknesses and failures he saw in his fundamentalist background. I do not recommend his later books, starting with How Should We Then Live? (1976). That’s when the culture war stuff begins.


SERMON: When It All Comes Crashing Down

SERMON: When It All Comes Crashing Down

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:1-8)

☩ ☩ ☩

They said I got away in a boat
And humbled me at the inquiry. I tell you
I sank as far that night as any
Hero. As I sat shivering on the dark water
I turned to ice to hear my costly
Life go thundering down in a pandemonium of
Prams, pianos, sideboards, winches,
Boilers bursting and shredded ragtime. Now I hide
In a lonely house behind the sea
Where the tide leaves broken toys and hatboxes
Silently at my door.

Those words are from a poem by Derek Mahon called, “After the Titanic.” People are still fascinated by the story of that great ocean liner, which sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic after sideswiping an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster.

In the early 1900s, there was intense competition among shipping companies to see who could produce the fastest, the biggest, and the most luxurious steamships. One of the most famous of them was the Lusitania, which was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat in 1915, precipitating the United States entering World War I.

But by far the most glorious of them all was Titanic. As one author writes:

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship afloat. No expense had been spared in her construction. She boasted opulent state rooms, luxurious dining rooms, sumptuous smoking rooms with ornate ceilings and magnificent candelabra, and an elegant grand staircase. She had elevators, libraries, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath, a gymnasium, a squash court, even an eight-piece orchestra—everything to satiate the desires of 325 first-class passengers as well as all the rest. She was at the leading edge of technology, inspiring awe and wonder in those who saw her. And most amazing of all, her builders assured, she was absolutely unsinkable. (John Meakin)

And yet, on April 15, 1912, it all came crashing down. The great Titanic broke in two and sank. All that state of the art engineering, all those elegant furnishings, all those magnificent appointments went to the bottom of the sea, along with many rich and famous people who prided themselves and found their security in having the best things in life.

The Jewish people in Jesus’ day felt the same kind of pride in the Temple at Jerusalem. You know, it wasn’t like today — there weren’t religious buildings and gathering places everywhere like we have throughout our communities. There was the Temple — the one great Temple. King Herod had rebuilt it, with magnificent stones and with porticos and great stairways and a vast plaza. It was an impressive campus, the centerpiece of the city of Jerusalem, and, to the Jewish people, the great palace where God, the King of the Universe, had made his dwelling among them.

You can understand the disciples in today’s Gospel when they say to Jesus, “Aren’t these stones and these buildings amazing?” They were bursting with admiration and pride for the awe-inspiring Temple, much as I’m sure the people who saw the Titanic oohed and ahhed with wonder over that mighty ocean liner.

Leave it to Jesus to throw cold water on their amazement. “It’s going to all come crashing down,” he told them. “Very soon, this place will be a pile of rubble.”

When the disciples questioned him about that, Jesus foretold a coming time of trouble that would not be for the faint of heart. People following false leaders, wars breaking out, natural disasters like earthquakes and famines.

These, he warned them, would be like birth pangs leading to a great climactic event.

Jesus was talking about what would happen leading up to the year AD 70, when the Roman armies invaded Jerusalem, sacked the city, leveled the Temple, and brought an end to the Jewish nation. The Jewish people never had that status again until 1948. It all came crashing down for them, and it took nearly 2000 years for a glimmer of hope to reappear.

My friends, I think we must be careful about what we’re impressed with. We must not take for granted that this world and our lives will be forever stable and untouched by sudden trouble. We must not put our ultimate trust in the powers and institutions and structures of this world that are often so impressive and that seem so strong.

Just ask folks in the Florida panhandle who now look out on a wasteland after Hurricane Michael. Or talk to people in northern California who have seen everything in sight turn to ashes by wind-whipped fires. Ten years ago, thousands of people in the United States were unceremoniously evicted from their homes because of an economic collapse few saw coming. Many are still trying to recover. And every day, people hear bad news that seems to have come out of the blue about their health and future prospects.

You and I don’t like to think about it, but we all know deep in our hearts that it can all come crashing down. I say this today not to frighten you or make it hard for you to sleep at night, but to help us all prepare for whatever comes by learning to trust in things that can never be shaken.

Things like:

  • God loves you and will never stop loving you.
  • Nothing you and I ever go through can ever separate us from God’s love.
  • Jesus has already suffered the worst evil can throw at a person, so he sympathizes and empathizes with us in our times of trouble.
  • God promises and Jesus showed us that even death itself is not the end of the story, but only the end of a chapter — there is life to come even beyond the grave.

As Lutherans we love Luther’s great hymn, Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). Its words were paraphrased and adapted from Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

That psalm goes on to say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It is though God comes to us while all the world is crashing down around us. Even the great mountains are falling down and splashing into the sea like the Titanic. And in the midst of it all, God wraps his arms around us as a parent does a frightened child, saying,”It’s ok, I’m here, you don’t have to be scared. I won’t leave you. You’re safe with me.”

In the words of Frederick Buechner, “This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Even if it all comes crashing down. Amen.

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: November 17, 2018

Flowering Kale on an Icy Day (Nov 2018)

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: November 17, 2018

We’re less than a week from Thanksgiving and soon we’ll be moving into the Advent season. Here in central Indiana we had our first ice and snow event this past week (see the picture above), which was relatively minor and its effects soon melted away. We’ve had the fireplace going to keep off the chill. Things just keep getting browner and grayer around here, but at least we have good things to look forward to. Next Saturday, we’ll probably be eating leftovers and soaking our feet after Black Friday shopping. I’m getting hungry already. So, let’s Brunch!

• • •

One of God’s best comforters…

Comfort dog Cubby, a 4-year-old purebred golden retriever from Fort Collins, Colo., rests under the table at the La Quinta Inn in Newbury Park, Calif., after a long day of comforting victims of the wildfires in southern California. (RNS photo by Cathleen Falsani)

• • •

R.I.P. Stan Lee…

Stan Lee obituary

Flawed people, great power clashed in worlds of Stan Lee’s creations

The superheroic story of Stan Lee — in pictures

‘Nuff said: Words of wisdom from Stan Lee

Stan Lee became my hero by reinventing the hero

• • •

And now…a panda playing in the snow!

• • •

People the English language isn’t rich enough to describe…

Alex Rawlings has written an intriguing article at BBC called, “The 10 personality traits English cannot name.” Rawlings says: “My recent book, ‘From Amourette to Żal: Bizarre and Beautiful Words from Around Europe’, explores some of the words that other languages have, but that English doesn’t. The following 10 words, for example, describe character traits and behaviours that may be familiar to us all, but that the English language struggles to succinctly express.”

Here are a few examples from the article. Go there to learn more interesting words that are just beyond our ability to describe using the King’s English.

Sortable / Insortable [adjective] – French

There are certain people in your life, such as friends or relatives, who you would rather meet up with at home than in public. Maybe it’s just that every time you go out with them for a meal they end up causing some kind of scene like striking up conversation with the couple in the corner who just want to be left alone, arguing with the waiters, or asking you about your personal life in a very loud voice around others. The French language describes those people as insortable, which means ‘un-take-out-able’.

However, those people that you would like to be seen in public with and that don’t manage to humiliate you so badly, are the opposite of insortable. They are sortable, or ‘take-out-able’, because you want to parade around with them everywhere

Γρουσούζης (groosoozis) [noun] – Greek

It doesn’t matter what they do. For some reason, some people just seem to bring bad luck. They’re the kind of people whose toast always lands buttered side down. They’re the kind of people whose phones miraculously die, even though just a second ago it said they had 51% battery left. Whatever they touch seems to break instantly, and worst of all, there’s practically nothing they can do about it.

The Greek language doesn’t try in vain to rationalise this predicament any more than it should be. Instead, it simply places those who find themselves in it into a category of their own. A γρουσούζης (groosoozis) is not just someone who is a bit unlucky sometimes, but someone who is a magnet for misfortune.

Pantofolaio [noun] – Italian

Some people may enjoy leaping out of bed at the crack of dawn, putting on their running shoes and kicking off their day of spectacular productivity with a pre-work workout. For others, though, their day may never quite reach these heights of activity. Instead they might choose to roll out of bed at a more leisurely hour. And then, once they’re up and about, the only type of footwear they would ever choose to don would be a pair of comfortable slippers, which they’ll happily walk around their home in all day, before they take them off again to go back to bed.

Those people who are so lazy that they just spend all day lounging about in their slippers are known as pantofolaio, which essentially means a ‘slippers-person’.

• • •

Photos from the week…

In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018. – The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on November 14, 2018, as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Helen McCrum holds a 100th anniversary of World War One flag as volunteers draw depictions of those killed in World War One, as part of Danny Boyle’s Pages of The Sea celebrations, on Murlough Beach in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne – RC19BE86EB90

A young girl brushes off snow on the Fearless Girl statue in lower Manhattan on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in New York. One of the first big storms of the season moved across the eastern half of the country on Thursday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The 2018 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a 72-foot tall, 12-ton Norway Spruce from Wallkill, N.Y., is craned into place, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in New York. The 86th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting ceremoN.Y. will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 28. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer)

• • •

They drank the Kool-Aid…

In November of 1978, I was a newbie pastor, having served my first church for a grand total of less than two months. I was a month away from being married. My understanding of the world was meager. One of the first awakening experiences of my emerging adult life was trying to fathom how nearly a thousand people following a religious leader could do the unimaginable.

On Sunday, November 19 that year we were at my future in-laws’ home listening to the radio as news reports were coming in from a far away jungle place called Guyana. A large number of bodies had been discovered in a settlement there. In addition, a congressman who had gone there to investigate reports about a cult there was reported killed. Over the next hours and days, a horrific picture emerged. We learned about the Rev. Jim Jones, who had led a large group of followers from California to Guyana, where they had established a settlement called Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, Jones convinced, and in some cases, forced more than 900 of those followers to drink Flavor-Aid laced with cyanide in a mass suicide he called a “revolutionary act.”

  • In Indianapolis, Jim Jones was a Methodist and Disciples of Christ minister.
  • He graduated from prestigious Butler University.
  • He was the first director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission.
  • He moved to California, and by 1973 almost 3,000 people were members of his congregation.
  • In 1975, Jones was named one of the top 100 most outstanding clergymen in the nation by Religion in American Life magazine.
  • In 1976, Jones received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Herald newspaper and was appointed chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority.

By 1977, however, a group called Concerned Relatives was becoming more active in raising alarms about Jones and his church, reports of mistreatment at Peoples’ Temple were spreading, and Jones moved to Guyana with about 1,000 followers. Just a year later more than 900 of those people were massacred by their leader, who himself died of a gunshot wound to the head.

By the end, in November 1978, Jones’ attitude towards his followers had changed. In the early stages of his ministry, when actually great things were often being accomplished, he thought of himself as the shepherd guarding his flock. More and more over the years, as his paranoia increased, as his drug use increased, he began to think of himself at war with almost everyone else in the outside world – the United States government, all kinds of secret forces. He believed – he talked himself into believing that at any moment he would be attacked, he would be brought down. And he passed this along to his followers.

At the end, he saw himself as a general. And his followers were his troops. And when Jones made the decision that there must be one last great gesture so that his name would live in history, his example would live in history, that would require the deaths of his followers.

• Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown

• • •

New Knopfler…

I’m in the early stages of listening to Mark Knopfler’s ninth solo studio recording, Down The Road Wherever. So I don’t have much to report yet, other than what I’ve heard so far is classic Knopfler narrative magic.

Here’s one of the cuts: “Good on You Son”

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