November 20, 2017

A word from our sponsor, and Michael’s thoughts on “gear”

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First today, a word from one of our friends and sponsors, Alan Creech . . .

11128620_10152771540730474_5266719116451218187_nGreetings Internet Monk-ites!

It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance in the actual blog copy of this estimable site. Many thanks to Chaplain Mike for the opportunity to beg for sales. And, from of old, thanks to the original Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who was my blogging colleague, who became my friend, and who was also, my internet rosary “pimp.” Pray for us, Michael.

Some of you have bought prayer beads from me before — thanks for that. In addition to the 1-decade “Catholic” style rosaries (you don’t have to be a Catholic to use them –seriously), I now also make quite a few 1-Week Anglican Rosaries.

Don’t be afraid, it’s just a prayer tool, folks. I have several of each made and ready to go out the door – for you or a friend. You can take a look at what I have ready on my alancreech rosaries FaceBook page– or take a look at my website for more options. I’ll be very happy to make another for you. Just let me know what you’d like and I’ll get that to you as quickly as I can.

Thanks for letting me invade this sacred space. Peace to all in this house.

+Alan

• • •

Note from CM: Seriously, folks, Alan makes beautiful prayer beads, which I have used personally and given as gifts over the years. You can access his site at any time by clicking on the link on the right side of our Internet Monk site.

Perhaps you have never used a tool like this for prayer and meditation. If not, I recommend it. We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities. This is one way we can “keep our bodies under control and make them our slaves” (1Cor 9:27, CEV) as we practice our faith.

In my evangelical/fundamentalist background, we resisted the use of what Michael Spencer called his “gear.” Here’s a post from 2009 in which he addresses those who have problems with it.

19557_306557776776_817076_nThoughts on “Gear”
by Michael Spencer

Evangelicals have no serious arguments to make against the use of “gear.” We’re up to our ears in our own versions of the stuff. We can point out the differences in what we believe is going on, but we’re no innocents. God using matter and the senses works just fine for evangelicals, so get that smirk off your face.

Have you seen how Bibles are marketed in evangelicalism? The covers? The “Favorite preacher” editions? The things we say will happen if you buy the right one?

Have you seen people buying relics from Spurgeon? (Not bones, but publications, pictures, letters.) Have you seen the picture I posted from the Lifeway at Southern Seminary selling Calvin bobbleheads and busts of Spurgeon? If they were actually selling “hair from Spurgeon” how do you think that product would move?

Do you have any idea how many evangelicals buy things like WWJD bracelets, Prayer of Jabez trinkets, infinite numbers of t-shirts, pictures of angels, pictures of Jesus, various versions of the cross, manger scenes, all kinds of Biblical art and statuary?

But seriously, when I was a young Christian, I was given Hook’s famous painting of the laughing Jesus. My wall in my classroom has a full print of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Someone bought all those “Footprints” gear. And the picture of Jesus carrying the man with the hammer and the nails in his hands? Who bought that?

In my family, old Bibles and relics of Godly ancestors are treasured. My uncle was a revered pastor. I have a Bible, sermon notebooks and a ring he always wore. I have family Bibles from both parents.

Ok, we don’t bow down to these things. Oh wait, what were they doing at the last Promise Keepers meeting I was at? Going down on the floor and bowing in front of a cross.

OK, we don’t interact with images of….Oh wait. Who has all those Passion plays? And who went to see Passion of the Christ 12 times, right there with their Roman Catholic friends.

Ok, we don’t use these things….Oh wait, who came up with prayer cloths and the whole bit about things and people being “anointed?” Who first said “put your hands on the radio/television?”

Well, we don’t go as far…..Oh wait, who has FAN PAGES for their favorite preachers? Who goes across the country just to hear Brother so and so in person? Who can write an ad for a person claiming that God’s Spirit hangs around them like cologne?

We don’t have anything going with the dead…..Oh wait, what are we singing about in all those Gospel songs? Who prints “Daddy’s First Christmas in Heaven” letters in the local paper? Who buys all those books from people claiming to have seen heaven/hell in some near-death experience? And do you have time for some church cemetery stories?

We don’t have pilgrimages….Are we really going to have this conversation? Do you have any water from the Jordan in your desk? Know anyone in Israel now buying stuff?

Can we talk about Judgment House sometime? Can we talk about what goes on at Christian concerts?

Some of Michael Spencer's gear

Some of Michael Spencer’s gear

Humans are religious. In their religious practices, they endow objects, associations, places, persons and certain sense experiences with meaning. They use these objects, etc. to focus upon God’s presence in the world. All that Catholics/Orthodox do is come out and tell you they believe God mediates his presence through matter. We believe the exact same thing, and can outdo our brothers and sisters in the gear department most days. (I haven’t seen Catholic amusement parks and their bookstores are not quite as numerous as Family Bookstores, Lifeway, etc.)

I’m a new covenant Christian. NONE of this stuff is necessary. It can get out of hand, both in practice and in the money spent on them. But I believe that the New Covenant isn’t the enemy of bread, wine, water, art or a hundred other ways the Spirit uses matter and sense experiences to commune with us.

If you want to point at a string of beads and a cross, see Marian worship and pagan roots, that’s fine. Don’t look too closely into the origins of your Christmas tree or the date for Easter, but that’s fine. I don’t want to pray to Mary or worship her either. I’ve heard and read 30 hours of arguments for the place of Mary in the RCC, I’m not as ignorant as I once was, but the whole supposed post-Gospels career of Mary misses me completely.

But I understand what’s going on with icons, beads, statues and medals. It’s very much what’s going on with your ESV Study Bible, your picture of Calvin, your feelings about your favorite Praise and Worship music and your church’s insistence on an “Altar Call.”

It’s OK with me. Let’s just be honest about it all. The differences matter and we should air them. But evangelicals need to get on the bus to rehab with everyone else.

Comments

  1. I have a calendar in my kitchen with views from different countries. June 2014 had a beautiful photo of the Christo Redentor statue in Rio. It made me smile every time I looked at it. I remembered in every room of my parents and grandparents homes growing-up there were either pictures of Jesus, Bible quotes, or crosses on the walls. I always thought that this was a way of showing others that they were Christian. And then I realized, that maybe this was to remind themselves and me, to smile when they see Jesus and to pray throughout the day.

  2. We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities.

    And at least the Catholics and Orthodox acknowledge that, and their theologies leave room for it. We evangelicals, with our unacknowledged “Gnostic-in-all-but-name” spirituality, have to fulfill those same urges while denying them at the same time. Which leads to any variety of silliness…

    • It’s a weird mix. Icons and rosaries and things of that nature, bad. Yet I’ve known plenty of evangelicals who treat fasting as this supernatural holy endeavor that gets them answers straight from the mouth of God. Or all those who believe very strongly in supernatural warfare and spirits in the air, etc. (Incidentally, it’s funny how one part of the Bible flat out says there aren’t other gods, just idols made of wood, and then yet another says there’s spirits and principalities flying around that we fight with…)

      “Gnostic in all but name” I guess to me means evangelicals deny the physical. Sure seems like they let the spiritual trump all.

  3. Thanks again, Mike, for adding my little “ad” to this post. The “gear” post from Michael is great. I remember all that well. He did a couple of these, and got in some intra-evangelical trouble over it, I believe. It was all slightly entertaining ,and unfortunate at the same time.

    I have people asking me from time to time, how to use or pray with my (or any) rosaries. My favorite way to respond is that you should use them in whatever way is helpful for you. It’s a tactile tool for prayer and meditation. As you said, it’s something that gets our bodies into it – “it” being our focus, worship, prayer on/to God.

    Use it as an intercession tool, allowing each bead to bring to mind a loved one for whom to pray. Use it as more of a pure meditation tool, “chewing” with your mind on the Love and Mercy of God as you run your fingers over the beads. Pray the “Jesus Prayer” over and over to grind it into your soul. Or, hey, ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mother, or your own earthly Mother or relative or friend who is now beyond us in the great cloud of witnesses (or not if that scares you). 😉

    Like Michael Spencer said, this thing, these things, aren’t necessities in our spiritual lives. They’re just helpful “extras.” So, any way way we “use” them which is God-focused is a good thing. I’m not a fan of their being some kind of set rules on how to pray the rosary, or the prayer beads, or whatever you want to call them. Be free, children! Peace. 🙂

    • Christiane says:

      Hi ALAN,

      those ‘things’ aren’t necessary . . . all I know is that, if my house were on fire, before I grabbed the photo albums and check books, I would take my father’s crucifix
      as crucifixes go, it has no material value, but it was once blessed and was the only thing I asked to keep of my father’s material possessions after his death, the family took the rest or it was donated to charity

      then there is the rosary kept by my cousin Anne that belonged to our memere (grandmother) with its beads worn thin as watermelon seeds . . . ‘how do you throw something like that away ?’, says Anne, who is now an agnostic . . . that Anne keeps it close to her is something my memere would have liked 🙂

      these ‘things’ not necessary, no . . . but like silent witnesses, still pointing to the faith of those who have gone before us to a place beyond this Earth

    • Yes, use them however you like, BUT, there is great value in some quality how-to with these. Knowing what to do with them, or at least having some sort of a starting place, makes it much easier to obtain benefit from their use, IMO. Different patterns of prayer can be great ways to get you started. I have a book called “Praying with Beads,” which gives you patterns to use the beads as a simple device for meditating on the psalms and brief readings, with a collect to go with it. It is keyed to the church year, and with faithful use morning, evening, and night, it could carve a lot of Scripture deep into your memory. If you can ever find a copy of that book, I recommend it strongly.

      • While perusing Amazon “Look Inside!” for “Praying with Beads” I found this:

        “In the Western church, the Irish community of St. Colomba began, around the ninth century, to use knotted strings or beads to count their prayers. Indeed, the modern English word “bead” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “bede”, meaning “prayer”.”

        Who knew?

      • Good thoughts, Miguel. Some kind of guidance can certainly be helpful. I just didn’t want to imply there were only certain ways to pray with beads. There are many.

      • Miguel, is the book you mention “Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year” by Doerr and Owen? Of what is on Amazon, this looks like the closest hit.

  4. Most of my religious education before Amazon and here came thru Christian Book Distributors. Hey, it got me here, don’t knock it, I still get their catalogs and occasionally find a bargain worth getting. If you want to see what Michael is talking about in one place, go to cbd.com and browse their gift shop. Explores the remote boundaries of good taste.

    What this is talking about today is what we talked about yesterday, except that clutters conversation and this can clutter your coffee table or walls. At the same time I find reminders and images (icons) useful in moderation. Helps to focus the mind and heart. Let me add to the endorsements of Alan’s beads. They may not have you taking up your bed and leaping and shouting, tho I won’t deny the possibility. They do help focus the mind and heart, and they don’t cost very much. The little ones can fit in your pocket.

  5. There is an obvious difference between prayer beads and a lot of the stuff sold at Christian bookstores. Prayer beads are meant to aid in piety and personal prayer and devotion; many evangelical trinkets and clothing are meant to make a statement or personal expression – “witnessing” tools, I guess.

    A “WWJD” bracelet may aid in personal devotion. And, yes, some people wear prayer beads as a fashion statement (no one wears prayer beads better than Hellboy).

  6. The Lutheran Book of Concord has an entire section devoted to the place of “aidaphora” (indifferent things) in worship. Face it, even altar flowers are unnecessary. To summarize, if something does not impede the proclamation of the gospel, then leave it alone. If it distracts from or opposes the gospel (i.e. becomes a source of legalism), then address that abuse. Many times, the gospel is impeded by silly fights over indifferent things.

  7. Raised Presbyterian, I was never exposed to much “gear.” Now an Episcopalian, I find I very much enjoy the beauty of the “stuff” in my church: the altar cloths, candles, various crosses of wood and brass, and of course, stained glass. I now feel these things put me in a more receptive and peaceful and even worshipful frame of mind, than if I were meeting with a congregation in some semi-abandoned storefront with cracked plaster walls and sagging ceiling and folding metal chairs.

    But I would of course deny that one setting is “holier” than the other. “Where two or three are gathered,” that’s the holy place where God meets us, I believe. There have been times in my life when the metal-chair storefront would have been the place I preferred to meet Him, and I think that’s true of many people. They feel the “frippery” of “bells and smells” is a distraction and even an scandalous expense, taking away from the business of being a Christian. I have been there, done that. Now I’ve come to appreciate physical beauty in worship, which is perhaps OK for my old age.

    On the other hand, perhaps as a reflection of my austere Presbyterian background, I *own* only one piece of gear — a small wooden cross on a ribbon. The cross was made by a Palestinian Christian, and I do treasure it, not least because of the thought of its maker, and because I wore it, un-harassed, around Baghdad and Mosul in 2003.

    As our friend Ox says (paraphrased), if it brings us closer to God, use and enjoy it; if it gets in the way, get rid of it.

    Alan, your gear is lovely, and I’m off to take a look at it. I’ve had several rosaries, but they broke or I lost them or gave them away. Maybe I’ll try again.

  8. Dana Ames says:

    I remember Michael’s post. At the time, I was on my way into the Orthodox Church, and in my convertitis went a little overboard in response to his request to list our own “gear”…. I find it interesting that he liked that crystal Celtic cross, which I also ordered from the newspaper ad 🙂

    I can testify to the quality of Alan’s prayer beads, and the serving heart behind them. He has repaired/restrung mine several times when *I* did something to damage them (like rolling over on them in my sleep). I have 2 sets; one stays home, one travels with me in my pocket, and has been across the country with me twice. I fall sleep every night praying the Jesus Prayer on one set or the other.

    Michael, pray for us.

    Dana

    • Always good to hear from you, Dana. Thanks for your kind words. I’m very glad the sets you have are still “in service.” 🙂

  9. I use my phone to access the Daily Office so I guess it would be an aid to prayer.

  10. OldProphet says:

    It’s all “moneychangers”Jesus threw them out with a scourge.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Hmm, I am not a user of things, but buying things is not the same thing as the money changers did what is written about. Then again, if I understand the OT and NT, unless you prophesy an actual word given to you directly from on High, with specific warnings that come true if not obeyed, you have a serious problem.

  11. I grew up in a rural Southern Baptist church that was extremely distrustful of ornamentation. The argument over whether to get stained glass windows lasted months. So I was overwhelmed when I went out into the world and encountered church traditions that fully incorporated art and aesthetics as part of the worship experience.

    Here’s the deal though. Crucifixes creep me out. Is it my country Baptist upbringing or is it the idea of Jesus hanging there, tortured eternally, never allowed to die and so be resurrected?

    On the other hand I love Icons. All that golden light. I have a print of a 13th century Cretan icon of the Transfiguration framed in my office.

    Is it possible for one’s spiritual life to be purely aesthetic? At this point in my life doctrinal disputes bore me tearless. But the image of the lucent Christ atop Mt Tabor, burning but not consumed, his disciples recoiling in awe and terror of his glory seems to say what needs to be said without having to actually say it.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Stephen, your last sentence could be expanded to all icons. They say what needs to be said without using words. One of the things the Transfiguration icon says is that Jesus was transfigured in his humanity as well as his divinity, and that splendor – appropriate to created beings – is where humans are supposed to be heading…

      Have you compared the usual crucifix depictions of Christ to an Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion? (Or a San Damiano Cross – which IS an Orthodox icon of the Crucifixion.) Might creep you out less.

      In an Orthodox worship space, Christ the Ruler of all is the icon that predominates, usually in a dome, if there is one. Front and center, above the altar, is usually another depiction of the risen Christ; in my church it is the Ascension. Right below that is the icon Platytera – “more spacious than the heavens” (because this woman, Mary, contained what cannot be contained in the “space” of the universe) – Mary with hands outstretched in prayer, with the infant Christ seen to be blessing all from inside her womb – which is shaped like that circle that is behind Christ in your icon. This is a theological declaration that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” (1Jn4.2 & 2Jn1.7) Alternately, sometimes Mary is shown on a throne, with the child Jesus on her lap, blessing. Same message.

      The Crucifixion has a place of prominence too – it is usually a rather large free-standing shrine – but it is usually placed to the north (left, looking toward) the altar area somewhere, not front and center. It’s not that we downgrade the Crucifixion; to me, it has an even stronger meaning as an Orthodox Christian than it had for me before. It’s not that we are avoiding the sacrifice; we believe that in the Liturgy time folds over itself, we are present at the one and only sacrifice (this time also bringing ourselves to offer, which we could not do before Christ did it fully on our behalf). It’s that we see it all in the light of the Resurrection, and we worship the Resurrected Christ, which is who is is now, remembering/participating all he has done – including his “second and glorious coming.” I always smile, at least in my mind, at that part; typical Orthodox paradox, remembering/participating in something that’s still in the future!

      Dana

      • I’m glad you said that about the San Damiano Cross, Dana. It is certainly that – an icon – not merely a crucifix. It tells a story. This is, as the story goes, the icon cross that St. Francis was looking at, meditating on when the significant event of hearing God tell him to “rebuild my church,” etc. I like it, and use it for my rosaries, for that reason – it’s more than just a crucifix, although it has that element at its center, but it also tells a more complete history of salvation.

  12. I see connections between this post and yesterday’s in some ways. Icons are a way of bringing the holy into the ordinary schedules and cadence of our lives in tangible ways, not a way of forcing our ordinary lives into sounding super-spiritual. Traditions that understand this and are open about it have better ways of doing it than those that don’t, as others have noted.

    It’s precisely the evangelicals’ impulse to spiritualize so much that leads to kitschiness when they get to the stuff, and even sometimes to kitschy sort of spiritualized reflections on everyday life. Like the meditations that try to turn something like picking up the kids or doing housework into some kind of metaphor for the inner spiritual life. This kind of thing has always seemed as forced and weird to me as the Precious Moments junk. Because maybe, just maybe, all you are really doing is picking up your kids or cleaning house. And that’s OK. That is in itself a sacred task and a sacred place without any fancy metaphors. Maybe you don’t have to dress them up.

  13. It is really an extension of recent discussions regarding transcendence versus immanence. One can strip every physical element out of worship in attempt to achieve pure transcendence and lose ones humanity in the process. Likewise, one could pursue every pragmatic sensation to be hip, entertaining, and culturally-relevant and lose transcendence in the process. It’s all about balance. Wax on, wax off.

  14. We have some gear: a number of crucifixes and a few icons, Anglican prayer beads, a small holy water bottle that has been dry for a number of years, a few other things I can’t recall at the moment. I haven’t used it in devotions very much, especially recently, but I’d be loathe to part with any of it, partly out of sentiment, but more importantly because when my glance happens to fall on it, the gear reminds me that the world is open, not closed. And there are times, many times, when I need to be reminded of that.

  15. Christiane says:

    holy cards and even Christmas cards are useful (but not necessary) . . .
    do they prompt us to pray, to ‘ponder’ ? I think some do. I love how this card invites us to meditate during Advent:

    http://blog.archny.org/steppingout/images/evemary.jpg

    • Dana Ames says:

      Oh Christiane, that is lovely!

      We don’t have a comparable icon, but Orthodox hymnography is full of references to the Eve-Mary connection. The Akathist Hymn from the 6th century calls Mary “the redemption of the tears of Eve.” (If you don’t know it already, search the ‘net – I think it would be a blessing to you to pray it.) The Fathers wrote of it often and from very early – Ireneaus, mid-2nd century, is the first I know about.

      Thanks for the link!

      Dana

  16. My mother used to put scapulars (of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I believe; she would get them when we all went to the annual feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Brooklyn) between the mattresses and box springs of all the beds in the house; there they would compete for territory with the dried palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday, which had been put in the same place. Though not a religiously observant Roman Catholic, my mother had a superstitious streak, and probably thought it couldn’t hurt to stay on the good side of a few saints.

  17. Those non religious are stunningly religious with all their doings. I’ll bet your mom was s special lady.

  18. “We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities.”

    I have struggled with having, at a prior point, absorbed a conception of faith that places a very high premium on interior mental states.

    No doubt this can be liberating, a helpful corrective. It can also turn into a blackhole. It possible to ask endless questions or interrogate one’s self ruthlessly.

    In some ways, resting a bit more on practice and physicality helps give me something to lean on. Asking if one has “faith” seems to get nowhere, and it gets nowhere even faster the more anxious one is about the question; often it has seemed to me like discarding this line of inquiry for simply “doing faith” is healthful, and even comforting. There have been points when I’ve felt totally lost-at-sea mentally or emotionally, where being able to fall back on practice or even finger a physical object has been steadying.

    • “There have been points when I’ve felt totally lost-at-sea mentally or emotionally, where being able to fall back on practice or even finger a physical object has been steadying.”

      Yes; I’m learning this is part of the value of the Office. I suspect that is true of the rosary, as well.