April 21, 2014

What Some of Our Friends Are Saying…

Note from CM: This will be a “Friend Week” at Internet Monk, featuring posts by some of our fellow travelers and recommendations about what a few of them are saying on their blogs.

Today we feature some excerpts from the Christian blogosphere that we like. You can read the full posts from which these snippets are taken by clicking on the title links.

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Father Ernesto Obregon at OrthoCuban: “On Desert Father Stories”

Desert Father stories tend to belong to a genre of literature called wisdom stories. The purpose of the stories does not tend to be doctrinal, though there are exceptions, but practical. They teach you how to live the Christian life, how to think and behave not only “Christianly” but in a generally ethical manner as well. Like many of Jesus’ parables, the stories of the Desert Fathers force you to think, to puzzle out, to wend your way through the story to get to the nugget of wisdom buried in there. In that sense, they teach you correct thinking patterns because only if your thinking pattern is correct can you find the nugget of wisdom buried there.

…Reading the Desert Fathers is a good antidote for us in our culture. We have intellectualized the faith to the point where the person with the best doctrine is somehow considered to be the closest to God. The Desert Fathers point out that the ones closest to God are those of a humble heart who obey Him. It is a lesson well worth learning. They would have welcomed the knowledge, but been horrified at the thought of someone with much knowledge and little practice, because inevitably that person would not truly understand, which means that he would not truly know as much as he thought he knew.

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Nadia Bolz-Weber at Sarcastic Lutheran“Sermon about Mary Magdelen, the massacre in our town, and defiant alleluias”

The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.

And in some ways Mary Magdalen is like, the patron saint of just showing up.

Because showing up means being present to what is real, what is actually happening.  She didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think….but none of that is nearly as important as the fact that she just showed up.  She showed up at the cross where her teacher Jesus became a victim of our violence and terror.  She looked on as the man who had set her free from her own darkness bore the evil and violence of the whole world upon himself and yet still she showed up.

I think St Mary Magdalen, were she your preacher, would be braver that I.  She would not shy away from the dark reality of innocent people slaughtered while it was still night.  She would show up and name the events of 2 days ago exactly what they were: horrific, evil, senseless violence without a shred of anything redemptive about it.

And I think that were Mary Magdalen here she would have very little tolerance for the platitudes and vapid optimism of so much overly-churched Christianity.  Those are simply luxuries of people who’ve never had demons.  But equally would she abohor nihilism or the idea that there is no real meaning in life – ideas present in so much of post-modernity…that too, is a luxury but it is one of those who have never been freed from demons.

I think she would show up and tell us that despite it all despite the violence and fear that it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people and always, always it is worth it to sing alleluia.  For surely the devil hates the sound of it.

 

Randy Thompson at Forest Haven blog: “The Flesh Is Willing, but the Spirit is Weak”

Rest is more than cessation of activity. It’s a time to withdraw and get perspective, to discern where God is active, and where less so. Sports teams illustrate this clearly. A basketball team, for example, will call a time out when it’s down two points and there is five seconds left on the clock. They call a time out so they can rest and focus on what they need to do. Do they go for two points, and a tie, or for three points and the game? You certainly don’t want to keep the clock running and try to figure it out as the those last five seconds count down! Yet, people—pastors—fail to take time outs under pressure and, distracted and frazzled, attempt to make decisions about their lives and the lives of others.

From a place of rest, one’s problems look different than they do in the thick of things when we’re hurried, distracted, and worried. From the place of God’s rest, all mountain-sized problems reveal themselves to be considerably smaller, if not molehills. Life’s journey is a lot easier when you perceive the mountains you think you need to climb as God’s molehills.

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Peter W. Marty at The Lutheran: “Moved to Sing”

The emergence of technological devices that play back recorded music did more to shrink peoples’ confidence in singing than almost anything else. In many churches, singing has become something hired or gifted professionals do. Others consider singing the work of “performing” choirs. These shifts help make singing seem like an external option for our lives rather than an internal component of being human. Shrinking numbers of Christians view singing as an intrinsic part of a breathing faith — that expression of human emotion for which spoken words never seem to be enough. Singing is now “an extra.”

So why should you sing in your congregation, especially if you are unsure of your voice? You could argue that singing in worship serves no practical purpose. No casserole for the homeless will be baked after the opening hymn this Sunday just because you opened your mouth in song. No sudden healing on the orthopedic wing of the nearby hospital will take place because you let loose on “Amazing Grace” during communion.

We sing, in part, because no sound is more sublime than the human voice. Some people sing because they are happy; others are happy because they sing. Singing breaks down boundaries and creates amazing solidarity. If diverse people can eagerly rise from their stadium seats during the seventh inning stretch to sing for the concept of baseball, one might think that standing in another venue to sing for the reality of God carries even more delight. Songs of faith often connect us with God more intimately than many sermons do.

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Allison Backous Troy at Good Letters: “Orthodoxy and the Return of Love”

The reason I became Orthodox was not practical, nor was it based on fear or expectation. I became Orthodox because, in it, I saw my own tendencies towards demand and fear refashioned.

I saw my belief that love was a tradeoff dissolve during my first confession, where, for the first time, I had nothing to exchange or offer that was any good, my priest’s stole cast around my shaking shoulders, my tears wetting the woodcut print of Christ crucified.

I became Orthodox because, in it, I was able to see salvation as more than a stasis of trust, or an attempt to keep a wavering vow. I was able to see it as I had longed for it, as a healing of soul and body.

…In becoming Orthodox, I have seen that God, more than waiting for me to return, has been bending me to him and holding me this whole time. Not one moment of my life has been lost.

The goal of salvation is not recompense for a difficult life, but the recovery of life, theosis, God moving us into a love that returns all things beyond our imagining. A love that brings us into a body that sustains, recovers, and makes new.

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Trevin Wax at Kingdom People: “A Word to My Calvinist Friends”

Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.

…Let’s be very clear. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).

The gospel is not the ordo salutis. It is not Grudem’s systematic theology. Nor is it the five solas.

 

Comments

  1. Great excerpts!

    Trevin Wax is so right.

    T

  2. Merton relates an amusing story from the Desert Fathers;

    Two Desert Fathers had been living together as hermits for many years and had never gotten into a fight. One of them said to the other, “Why don’t we do like everybody else in the world and get into a fight?” The other fellow said, “O.K., how do you do it?” He said, “Well, fights start over possessions, owning something exclusively so that the other fellow can’t have it. Let’s look around and get ourselves a possession and then have a fight over it.” So he found a brick and said, “I will put this brick between us, and I will say, ‘This is my brick,’ and you will immediately say, ‘No, it is mine,’ and then we will get into a fight.” So the man gets the brick and puts it down between the two of them and says, “This is my brick.” And the other says, “Well, brother, if it is your brick, take it.”

    Thomas Merton in Alaska, p. 86.

  3. That is quite a panorama of perspectives! Far be it from iMonk to become an echo chamber. Those Orthodox excerpts remind me of my need to read more broadly (though reading a book at all would be progress at this point). For the music one, though, I’m more than a bit leery of saying that songs “connect us with God.” That is very charismatic and silly, imo. Some songs can be an expression of prayer, and others can teach us about God, but they do not serve a mediating role the way the means of grace do. Plus, I would argue that we sing not so much in an effort to connect with God, but rather in response to Him having connected with us. God initiates and we respond, we don’t provoke his love by singing. He loves us, and that makes us sing!

  4. To start off with a mind-blowing Orthodox read, let me suggest Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Everywhere Present.