...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Sat, 25 Apr 2015 04:01:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Saturday Ramblings, April 25, 2015: Drafting Mike Edition Sat, 25 Apr 2015 04:01:56 +0000 Hello, friends, and welcome to the weekend. Ready to Ramble?

Then hop in the '62 convertible

Then hop in the ’62 convertible

The World Happiness Report for 2015 was released this week.  The report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness:

Apparently the colder you are the happier you are.  That’s my main take-away from this.

The list of people running for president keeps on growing, a full year and a half before the actual election.  Ted Cruz was first in. Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul announced last week.  Jeb Bush, Mike Hucklebee, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and  Lindsey Graham are expected to join in the next week or two, and Chris Christie and Scott Walker are lingering in the wings.  Even Hulk Hogan is running.

And I am asking President Putin to settle this with me mano a mano. We will be armed with one folding chair apiece.

And I am asking President Putin to settle this with me mano a mano. We will be armed with one folding chair apiece.

I think it’s time we banded together, imonks, and drafted a presidential candidate we all love and respect: None other than our own Chaplain Mike, of course. kkrh5

I mean, just think of his strengths.  Which of the other candidates can craft a profound blog post in under one hour, without speech-writers?  Which of them can exegete a Pauline passage with humility and insight?  You think Hillary can do that?  Jeb Bush?  Pleeeeeaazee. Most importantly, which other candidate would actually be too humble to seek the job?  I know who I’m voting for! I’m voting for the man who lives on Main Street in a small town in Indiana (yes, really).  I’m voting for a man who roots for the Cubs, year after year, success be damned.  I’m voting for a man who is not a stooge of either party.  I’m voting for a man who will lead us like Moses through the Red Sea of the culture wars and political posturing. I’m voting for a man who might let me stay in the Lincoln Bedroom.  Internet, O Internet, who is with me??? Shall we do this great thing??? I say again, shall we do this?  What say ye, people of the internet? 54665948 54896193 (1) 61566285 61566289 alright+lets+do+this1 (1) Anchorman_Lets_Do_This_Black_Shirt_POP ciabia lets-do-this lets-do-this-meme-no-cuss-words lets-do-this-rt1b0w Previewkksvvkkstmkktqi

In the polls so far, Bush is the front runner among GOP voters.  However, Rubio polls best in a general election fight against Hillary Clinton. In a general election match-up, Clinton gets 45 percent of American voters to 43 percent for Rubio (within the poll’s margin of error).  She is more heavily favored against other candidates (except one):

45 – 40 percent over Christie
46 – 42 percent over Paul
47 – 42 percent over Huckabee
46 – 39 percent over Bush
46 – 41 percent over Walker
48 – 41 percent over Cruz
21-74 percent under Chaplain Mike hd0u1j

An international team of researchers has sequenced the nearly complete genome of two Siberian woolly mammoths: “This discovery means that recreating extinct species is a much more real possibility, one we could in theory realize within decades,” says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, director of the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University and a man who has apparently never watched that Jurassic Park documentary.

Have we learned nothing?

Have we learned nothing?

Last Saturday, Pope Francis proclaimed an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” Holy Year. The year begins on Dec. 8 with Francis’ opening the normally closed Holy Door in the back of the basilica, and ends on Nov. 20, 2016. Francis says the church must talk about God “in a more accessible way” and avoid “fortress” mentalities because its credibility depends on more mercy and less severity.

Its moves like these that have prompted a long story in The Atlantic titled, “Will Pope Francis break the Church”. While noting nothing radical has happened yet (at least, structurally), the article notes, “…his moves and choices (and the media coverage thereof) have generated a revolutionary atmosphere around Catholicism. For the moment, at least, there is a sense that a new springtime has arrived for the Church’s progressives. And among some conservative Catholics, there is a feeling of uncertainty absent since the often-chaotic aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s and ’70s.”

Weird headline of the week: Plumber ‘gives birth’ to identical twin after having pains in his stomach.  Yes, it seems 30 year old Gavin Hyatt had been having some pain in his abdomen.  It turned out to be a twin, who had died in utero and been absorbed into Gavin’s body. Last week the ‘twin’ came out.  Through Gavin’s belly button. No, that’s not a typo. Gavin is doing okay physically, but is still trying to process this admittedly rare situation:  “I feel absolutely fine now but it has not sunk in yet that I could have had a twin brother. I have him in a jar at home and I call him little Gav. I haven’t told many people. I feel like a bit of a freak.”

Gotta love The Onion: FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States 


“The Kardishians again? How can they stand this stuff?”

The European Conservative published an insightful interview with British philosopher Roger Scruton. I found the following exchange fascinating, and wonder what your thoughts are:

We watch daily reports of the violence committed for what is commonly referred to as ‘religious motives’, while in public discourse many Western authors defend atheism and the downfall of religion. How do you view this period we are witnessing? Is religion the cause of or the solution for this violence?

That is a lot of questions wrapped up into one. I wrote about this in my book The West and the Rest (2002). My position, briefly, is that religion can be the cause of violence, and also the solution to it. I agree with René Girard, that the human impulse towards violence lies at the origins of our social sentiments, and easily translates itself into religious form, and in particular into the search for the scapegoat, whose sacrifice will purge us of our accumulated guilt. However, I also believe that Christianity, which makes this process conscious, and in which the victim offers himself in a spirit of forgiveness, contains the solution to violence. In this, Christianity is entirely unlike Islam, which is a religion that has not risen to consciousness of its underlying dynamic, and is in denial about its sacred text. The Christian is commanded to forgive, to accept humiliation, and to bear the cross of Christ. If these commands are followed faithfully—which is, of course, rare—then violence will be defeated.

Given the constant threat of terrorism with which we now live, do you believe we are facing a cultural war? Is Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the world is divided into several civilisations based on religious ideals that can be fault lines for conflict still valid for the 21st century?

There is certainly some kind of clash of civilisations occurring. However, Islam seems to have forgotten its civilisation, and it is rare now to meet a Muslim who has ever heard of enlightened Islamic scholars like Ibn Sinna, or Rumi, or Hafiz, or who is even aware that a great civilisation once existed, built upon the revelation of the Koran. Western civilisation, too, is losing the memory of its religious inheritance. I am reminded of Matthew Arnold’s “On Dover Beach” in which he expresses his fear for a future in which “ignorant armies clash by night”. So yes, there is a clash—not of two civilisations but of two competing forms of stupidity: one given to violence and the other to self-indulgence.

Theologian of the week is our good friend, Creflo Dollar.  Last month he took a lot of heat for asking his followers to pony up for him to buy a 65 million dollar jet (yes, really); Now he tells us, “there is no such thing as a prosperity gospel”.  This is because, “the money in my pocket is not mine; it belongs to God”.  Okaaaaaaaaaayyy. In Creflo’s case, that is 27 million dollars.  God sure is good.

Ozzie the goose had a problem. First, he had to have his leg amputated after he broke it shortly after hatching. He compensated by using his left wing like a crutch but broke its tip on the ground. Ozzie was struggling to get around his home in South Africa. Until now.  Through the magic of 3d printers, Ozzie now has a prosthetic leg.

Wait a minute...Ozzie, are you goose-stepping?  You look like you're goose-stepping, you little Nazi.  Fine! First we give you a prosthetic leg, and you reward us by prancing around like you're about to invade Poland.  this is disgusting, Ozzie, disgusting!

Wait a minute…Ozzie, are you goose-stepping? You look like you’re goose-stepping, you little Nazi. Fine! First we give you a prosthetic leg, and you reward us by prancing around like you’re about to invade Poland. this is disgusting, Ozzie, disgusting!

Pope Francis famously said “Who am I to judge? when asked about homosexuals. Well, he may find that he has to, one way or another. ” France, you see, has nominated a gay man to be ambassador to the Holy See. This happened in January, but so far the Vatican hasn’t accepted the appointment. European media has speculated that this is because Stefanini, a Catholic who worked for years in the French Embassy at the Vatican, is gay, though the French government officially is denying any problems. Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., who focuses on the papacy, said France was “poking a finger in the eye of the Vatican” by appointing an openly gay man.

A New York judge will consider whether Chimpanzees are ‘Legal Persons’. The hearing is scheduled for May 6. Animal rights activist Steven Wise has said a victory could spur similar cases on behalf of elephants, dolphins, whales and other intelligent animals. I have mixed feelings about this.  One the one hand, it seems obtuse to not recognize the difference between a chimp and, say, a lobster.  On the other hand, won’t elevating animals to human status necessarily mean devaluing humans to the same status as animals? Your thoughts?

Tim Tebow is back in the NFL.  The Eagles signed him to a one-year contract.  A Philadelphia eatery is celebrating by creating a special pretzel.  In case you’re wondering, that is a symbol of a player taking one knee in prayerful thanks, aka: “tebowing”.


The Social Club in Nashville is a place for swingers.  And, no, I’m not talking about kids on a playground.  It’s a sex club.  That’s why there was opposition to its opening from it’s would-be neighbors, especially the Christian school next door. After the opening was blocked, the club re-named itself as United Fellowship Center, and called itself a church.  The “dungeon” was re-named “the choir room”. Now it’s challenging the city to prove it’s not a legitimate house of worship.  The neighbors are watching….warily.

Finally, Robert F. last week asked if there’s a reason we no longer have musical selections on the Ramblings. Well, Robert, there actually is a very good reason: I’m lazy. And I have weird taste in music, apparently.  You wouldn’t enjoy most of my playlist, I’m afraid. Anyway, no promises for the eternal future, but I will try to oblige. Here is the title cut from the new album by Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil:

]]> 3
Blogging through The Lost World of Adam and Eve (1) Fri, 24 Apr 2015 04:01:09 +0000 Blogging through “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”
• Propositions 1-5

I’d like to take some time during the near future to blog through John Walton’s important book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.

Those familiar with Walton’s earlier work know that he writes on this subject by setting forth propositions, then explaining and defending them. This book contains 21 propositions that focus mostly on the text of Genesis 2-3 and the questions it raises in the origins debates.

The focus is not on concordism, that is, trying to show compatibility between the biblical accounts and scientific findings, but rather on understanding the text of Scripture itself. The primary focus is on the meaning and significance of these OT texts and what they communicate in their Ancient Near Eastern context.

Walton says:

In this book, I will contend that the perceived threat posed by the current consensus about human origins is overblown. That consensus accepts the principles of common ancestry and evolutionary theory as the explanation for the existence of all life. Though we should not blindly accept the scientific consensus if its results are questionable on scientific principles, we can reach an understanding that regardless of whether the the scientific principles stand the test of time or not, they pose no threat to biblical belief. Admittedly, however, a perception of conflict is not uncommon.

With that in mind, I will not give very much attention to the question of the legitimacy of the scientific claims. Instead I will be conducting a close reading of the Bible as an ancient document to explore the claims it makes. (p. 13)

In this new book, John Walton’s first five propositions summarize the groundwork he laid in The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, his work which has changed the discussion dramatically when it comes to the interpretation of Genesis 1 and its portrayal of “creation.”

The first five propositions are:

  • Genesis is an ancient document.
  • In the ancient world and the Old Testament, creating focuses on establishing order by assigning roles and functions.
  • Genesis 1 is an account of functional origins, not material origins.
  • In Genesis 1, God orders the cosmos as sacred space.
  • When God establishes functional order, it is “good.”

With the first proposition, Walton makes the point that God gave his biblical revelation in locutions that were tied to the communicator’s world. The biblical author and the ancient audience were engaged in “high-context” communication because they shared history, culture, language and experiences in common. We who read the Bible today are “low-context” outsiders who must interact with the text by respecting it for the ancient text it is and trying to understand the text in light of the world and worldview in which God gave it. When it comes, therefore, to the relationship between the Bible and modern scientific findings, “the authority of the text is not respected when statements in the Bible that are part of ancient science are used as if they are God’s descriptions of modern scientific understanding” (p. 18). We have access to much more information from the ancient world than interpreters of the past, and it is not hubris to use these findings to help us interpret the text more accurately.

Creation-Day5The next four propositions remind us of how John Walton understands the creation story of Genesis 1 in its ancient context.

Proposition 2: The Bible does not begin with an account that explains the transition from non-existence to existence. Instead, Genesis 1 serves as a literary introduction to what follows, and in 1:2, the material of creation is already present. The seven days of “creation” are actually portrayed as seven days in which God brought order to an already existing creation by assigning roles and functions to its various elements. This is similar to other Ancient Near East creation myths, which describe how chaos was overcome in order to bring order to the world. But Genesis differs also. Here we find no explicit story of a “cosmic battle” by which chaos is tamed. Instead, God brings order by “separating” and “naming.”

Proposition 3: Walton goes through each of the seven days to show how they emphasize the ordering of creation’s elements rather than explaining how the material of the world and universe came into existence. For example, the culmination of day one is not the existence of light and darkness, but the naming of day and night. This day thus describes the origins of time by which humans order our existence. Through separating the “waters above” from the “waters below” on day two, God orders his creation in order to create space in which living creatures can live and flourish. And so on.

Proposition 4: The seventh day, with its depiction of God’s rest, provides a key to understanding the metaphor being presented in Genesis 1. “Rest” is set forth as the objective of the creation account. The ultimate point of the chapter is that God ordered creation so that it would be his temple in which humans and all living creatures might live, relate to him and serve him. When God “rests,” Genesis is describing the installation of a king — God enters his dwelling place and takes his throne. The world is God’s sacred space, he designed it as the realm in which he would dwell with us and we would be his people. This is the message of Genesis 1.

Proposition 5:  Finally, John Walton takes up the question of the word “good” in Genesis 1. Based on his examination of the word and its lexical possibilities, he concludes that “the word never carries [the] sense of unadulterated, pristine perfection” (p. 53), as many interpretations of the creation story assert. Instead, he says it “refers to a condition in which something is functioning optimally as it was designed to do in an ordered system — it is working the way God intended” (p. 55).

I’ll let Walton explain the implications of this:

…it does not suggest that everything pre-fall is perfect. God has established a modicum of order adequate for our survival and for his plan to unfold. There is still a long way to go before the ultimate order of new creation is achieved. People are supposed to be part of that ordering process as vice-regents. Some non-order remains and will eventually be resolved, but the order that has been established is functional (“good”), and there is not yet disorder…. This conclusion can be confirmed by some of the other occurrences of the designation tob me’od (“very good”). For example, the same description is given to the Promised Land (Num 14:7), though it is filled with enemies and wicked inhabitants, not to mention the wild animals who are predators. (p. 56f)

This word does not prove that pain, suffering, predation or death were absent from the world described in Genesis 1. Nor can we conclude from this word that Adam and Eve were perfect in every way.

• • •

That should bring everyone up to speed and prepare us for moving into Genesis 2-3 and discussing Adam and Eve. We’ll begin next week.

]]> 13
Faith in the system, or faith in Jesus? Thu, 23 Apr 2015 04:30:12 +0000 234490-3x2-940x627

I am going to try and make sense with this post, but please bear with me. I just got home late from being on call, and have given myself a one-hour time limit to put this post together. I’ll try to make my point concise, but I’m not sure I will be able to give a full analysis or present everything I want to say.

The other day I watched the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin (2014). The film portrays two “sides” in the creation/evolution debate. On the one hand they interview proponents of Young Earth Creationism, such as Ken Ham, Pastor Joe Coffey, and others. On the other hand, they have scientists speak on behalf of evolutionary science while at the same time telling Charles Darwin’s story about his discoveries, how he came to write The Origin of the Species, and the impact his journey had on his own faith. I’m going to try and watch it again sometime soon, because I want to be able to analyze it more carefully.

I just want to make one observation at this point, because a particular thought struck me with new impact while watching this film.

That observation is this:

I was impressed anew at how evangelical Christianity comes across as faith in a system rather than faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

The arguments Young Earth Creation proponents made all presupposed that:

  • The Bible, as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, reveals a readily apparent, coherent system of belief, answering humankind’s most important questions.
  • If we tamper with one part of the system (in this case, especially the “foundational truths” of Genesis 1-11), then we will lay the whole system waste.
  • Our job, then, no matter what evidence comes to light through our study of nature, is to defend the system of the Bible at all costs.

The evangelical Christianity that this documentary displays, and I might add, the evangelical Christianity that I spent most of my adult life studying and teaching, is not, in the final analysis about Jesus, except insofar as Jesus is a part of the system. It is faith in the Bible that is more fundamental. It is believing in the system that is crucial. They are not just making a claim that reading the Bible aright leads to Jesus, it’s more than that. It is that the Bible is a divinely given systematic presentation of an entire worldview that must be believed in its entirety for one to be a faithful Christian (along with having “accepted” Jesus, of course). Indeed, beyond that, if we allow one crack in the wall of this system, society itself will become subject to moral decay, chaos, and ultimately destruction.

Darwin-F8.2-1838-zzzzzz-det-00044-bxf07-1One person interviewed in the film (a minister) went so far as to say this with a straight face to the camera:

If somewhere within the Bible I were to find a passage that said two plus two equals five, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and to understand it.

This is not faith in Jesus, it’s faith in a certain understanding of what the Bible is and how it’s designed to speak to us. It’s not simply authoritative, it is the entire little box in which we live. This is naive biblicism. I would even call it “blind” faith, because so many who hold it, ironically, have so little knowledge of the Bible as it truly is.

There are ways in which the concepts of trusting the Bible and trusting Jesus come together. This is not it.

When your faith is in a system, this system becomes your “platform.”

Those who hold to it become the “party” of those defined by allegiance to the system.

The party begins to function as a “political” entity.

And the whole thing becomes a “partisan” affair in which faithfulness is defined as defending the system against all who suggest any other way.

In this film, the Christians who spoke weren’t just questioning Darwin. They were questioning anyone who didn’t line up 100% with the party line. That’s not faith in Jesus, that’s faith in the system.

]]> 184
Christian Wiman on religious despair Wed, 22 Apr 2015 04:01:58 +0000 1272482255121_f

Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal, because it is usually wholly illusory. There are definitely times when we must suffer God’s absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all creation. But this is very rare, and for the most part our dark nights of the soul are, in a way that is more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love. To feel him — to find him — does not usually require that we renounce all worldly possessions and enter a monastery, or give our lives to some cause of social justice, or create some sort of sacred art, or begin spontaneously speaking in tongues. All too often the task to which we are called is simply to show a kindness to the irritating person in the cubicle next to us, say or to touch the face of a spouse from whom we ourselves have been long absent, letting grace wake love from our intense, self-enclosed sleep.

• from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, p. 106f

]]> 27
Ron Rolheiser: A Jewish folk tale Tue, 21 Apr 2015 04:01:47 +0000 horse

A Jewish folk tale talks of a young man who aspired to great holiness. After some time at working to achieve it, he went to see his rabbi. “Rabbi,” he announced, “I think I have achieved sanctity.” “Why do you think that?” asked the rabbi. “Well,” responded the young man, “I’ve been practicing virtue and discipline for some time now, and I have grown quite proficient at them. From the time the sun rises until it sets, I practice a rigorous asceticism: I take no food or water. All day long, I do all kinds of hard work for others and I never expect to be thanked. If I have temptations of the flesh, I roll in the snow or in thorn bushes until they go away, and then at night, before bed, I practice the ancient monastic discipline and administer lashes to my bare back. I have strongly disciplined myself so as to become holy.”

The rabbi was silent for a time. Then he took the young man by the arm and led him to a window and pointed to an old horse that was just being led away by its master. “I have been observing that horse for some time,” the rabbi said, “and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get fed or watered from morning to night. All day long it has to do work for people, and it never gets thanked. I often see it rolling around in snow or in bushes, as horses are prone to do, and frequently I see it get whipped, but that, young man, is a horse, not a saint!”

• from Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist

]]> 46
Emerging from Gethsemani: What I did and what I read Mon, 20 Apr 2015 04:01:32 +0000 Emerging Geth

I spent Monday through Friday last week at one of my favorite places in the world: The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky. This was my third retreat at Gethsemani, and each of them has had a different purpose.

I went in November 2011 in a state of exhaustion from a heavy workload, both in terms of hours logged and the intensity of the work itself. This trip was my first to a monastery and it was pure refreshment. After sleeping much of the first two days and doing little other than attending the daily prayer services and eating meals in the dining hall, I found myself absorbing the silence of the place. I began walking and taking pictures, and the burdens came drifting off my shoulders as I took in the quiet and the words of the psalms being chanted. You can read about this experience in the archives: how I learned the value of places like this and came to appreciate people like the Trappist monks, who seem to embrace the calling of upholding the world in prayer. My first retreat was just that, and I was refreshed.

13384886444_3f0453cc49_zLast March (2014) I went back to Gethsemani for a time of discernment. As I wrote about here on Internet Monk, I was in a “fog” about some vocational decisions related to ordination and returning to parish ministry or remaining in chaplaincy. It was a different time of year; spring was just beginning to emerge, and I was hoping that a clear path would appear before me. I spent a lot of time walking and taking pictures of birds around the property, trying to absorb the truth of Matthew 6:26 — “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I did not attend as many of the services but spent more time reading and journaling, trying to hear what God was saying. Whereas the first retreat was about rest, this one was about listening, and I believe I received good direction during my long weekend there.

A third and entirely different purpose lay behind last week’s sojourn to Gethsemani. I am currently engaged in a writing project. I’ll share more about it in the future, but suffice to say at this point it is difficult to fit something like this into my schedule of hospice work and blogging. It’s not so much about the time required as it is the mental and emotional energy (at least for me). Believe me, my tank was running low. So I needed a quiet place with no interruptions where I could think and read and write. No better place for that than Gethsemani. So I carefully planned where my time and attention would be. I focused on going to two services each day: Eucharist in the morning and Compline (my favorite) at night. The Great Meteorologist helped too: the weather was mostly cool and rainy so I was not tempted to ramble or spend a lot of time taking photographs. I staked a claim on a table in the back corner of the dining room where I could plug in my laptop and write away, and that’s mostly what I did. Thanks be to God, I made great progress and then came home this weekend and completed my first major draft of the project. This was a working retreat, and I can’t say it was about rejuvenation, except for the good feeling of having accomplished something that would otherwise have been impossible. Nevertheless, the quiet and freedom from other responsibilities and mental/emotional burdens did bring a measure of rest and refreshment, for which I’m thankful.

I did also decide to read one book for my own personal devotion, and I chose Ronald Rolheiser’s sweet and insightful Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist.

In the Christian scriptures, the term the body of Christ is used to refer equally to three things: the historical body of Jesus, the body of believers, and the Eucharist. Each of these is referred to as the body of Christ. Each is the body of Christ. For instance, when Saint Paul refers to either the community of believers or the Eucharist, he never intimates that they are like Jesus, that they replace Jesus, that they are symbolic representations of Jesus, or even that they are a mystical presence of Jesus. Each is equally called the body of Christ, each is that place in our world where God takes on concrete flesh. God still has skin in this world, in the Eucharist and in the community of believers. The incarnation is still going on. The word is still becoming flesh and living among us. (p. 17)

Rolheiser is obviously Roman Catholic, but I find that he states his views in ways that are generous and ecumenical, suggesting that divisions such as those between Catholics and Protestants about the relative prominence of Word vs. Table go back to the earliest days of the Church. I wish we could all be more ecumenical when it comes to the sacrament. It is hard to be at a place like Gethsemani and be unable to fully partake. In my own understanding, I would put it like this: in Christian worship we are called to gather at the Table, where Jesus feeds us with his Word and himself. The Table should be front and center in our church buildings because it is the symbol of what we are doing when we come together: worship is a sacred family meal. We come together, we share words, we enjoy a meal, we depart renewed. A family meal gathering is about more than the food alone and more than the conversation alone. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Both “Word” and “Table” as sacramental actions (preaching, Eucharist) are enfolded within the concept of coming to the family meal together and being strengthened in the spirit of the family, the bonds of love. In this, I rejoice with all who confess Jesus as Lord.

Certainly, however, the family meal would not be what it is without the food, nor is a gathering fully Christian worship without the Eucharist. Rolheiser likens it to God’s physical embrace. It is the tangible evidence of his presence and love. He observes how it intensifies our unity as the body of Christ. He also likens it to the new manna that becomes our daily bread. Like most Catholics, Rolheiser thinks John’s Gospel has a slightly different take than what the Synoptics teach on the Eucharist. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke set it squarely in the context of the Last Supper, John’s Gospel doesn’t (though the Upper Room Discourse is clearly set at the Passover meal). John instead speaks more mystically about it in passages like John 6, where Jesus presents himself as the bread of life (I happen to agree with him here.)

That is why, too, in Roman Catholic spirituality, unlike much of Protestantism, the Eucharist has not generally been called “the Lord’s Supper,” since it was understood not as an extraordinary ritual to commemorate the Last Supper, but as an ordinary, ideally daily, ritual to give us sustenance from God. (p. 42f)

In another chapter, I love his take on the Eucharist as a family meal, both ordinary and special. He also shares some good nuances that even Protestants will appreciate when speaking of the Eucharist as a “sacrifice.” And there is a wonderful section that adds richness (and, I might add, ecumenical possibilities) to the idea of what “real presence” means in the light of the Passover term “remembrance.” I am still working through this book, but I recommend it to anyone who wants a thoughtful yet thoroughly devotional study of the Eucharist.

Both in what I did and in what I read, it was a good week at Gethsemani.

]]> 28
Sundays with Michael Spencer: April 19, 2015 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 04:01:15 +0000 The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

The Calling of the Twelve, Higgins

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”…And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

• Mark 3:31-35

• • •

Most Christians aren’t like Jesus.

Should we even try to be? Isn’t that impossible?

None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus’ disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul’s words of “follow me as I follow Christ,” are translated simply, “follow Christ in every way possible.”

Ghandi said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” He’s far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren’t holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense.

Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn’t be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.

Perhaps many Christians don’t resemble Jesus because they don’t really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious.

Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate.

One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long.

Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary.

The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah.

Jesus’ family mistook him for a person who was “out of his mind.”

Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher.

The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven.

The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan.

Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave.

The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

The disciples….oh my. The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly.

Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man.

Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity.

I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans.

If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you”d need a bigger room.

When our children were small, my son was a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a “signature move” to end a match; a move that no one does exactly like they do.

When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, I believe Jesus’ “signature move” is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him.

Read back through the Biblical examples I’ve cited. In almost every instance, it’s Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It’s not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises. Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth.

So is Jesus like today’s Christians who so easily assume they know what Jesus is all about? I’d like to suggest that the answer is “No.” Jesus isn’t like today’s Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.

Do you like grape Kool-Aid? I’ve always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day.

Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid?

No, they don’t. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying “Yuck!! This doesn’t taste like grapes at all!”

The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there’s genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape.

So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.

Where would the real Jesus perform his “signature” move of turning over our popular misconception of him?

Here’s just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.

Jesus wasn’t building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel.

The church Jesus left in history was more a “band of brothers (and sisters)” than an organization of programs and buildings.

The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender.

The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful.

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Higgins

Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance.

Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful.

Jesus didn’t teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right.

Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus.

Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing.

Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn’t look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere.

God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God’s promises and blessings.

Jesus didn’t talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a “gospel presentation” like today’s evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven.

Jesus never fought the culture war.

Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects.

Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality.

Jesus was radically simple in his worship.

Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.

Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.

The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people.

Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement.

Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always moves to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom.

Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn’t.

Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God.

Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?

That’s the sound of tables turning over.

That’s the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid.

That’s why so many Christians aren’t like Jesus.

They have no idea what he was really all about.

]]> 15
Saturday Ramblings, April 18, 2014, The Pissing Off Putin Edition Sat, 18 Apr 2015 04:01:47 +0000 Hello, all, and welcome to the weekend.  Ready to Ramble?

1929 Rambler

1929 Rambler

We’re going to start with news from Russia that memes are now illegal. Well, not all memes, just those that feature a public character.  Gee, I wonder what powerful public figure is tired of being made into a meme.  [in Church Lady voice]: “Could it be……Putin?”61360728

Yes, it seems his Royal Shirtlessness has decided his cheesy photo-ops are not to be laughed at any more. Well, too bad. This is America, Baby, and we do what we want here! My forefathers watered the ground with their blood to give me the freedom to meme, and I’m going to use it! In fact, we are going to dedicate the rest of the Ramblings to pissing off Putin. Whaddya say to that, Vladimir?

The NBA playoffs start today, and boy is there a changing of the guard. The Miami Heat, who won the East for the last four years, did not even make the playoffs, nor did the Pacers, the Thunder, or the Suns.  The Lakers won barely a quarter of their games.  Instead the teams to beat are the Hawks, Cavaliers, Raptors (!), and Golden State Warriors. Who are you rooting for, imonks?

Speaking of the NBA, apparently Stephen Curry just knocked down 77 three-point shots in a row!  It was in practice, but still.  Wow.  I was going to mention that time I nailed four lay-ups in a row, but I changed my mind.

funny-putin (1)The NRA held its annual convention last weekend, and all the Republican hopefuls were falling over themselves in proclaiming their allegiance to guns, guns and more guns. Rick Santorum held up his concealed carry card before the audience and boasted that his wife requested ammunition for an upcoming birthday. Scott Walker talked about bow-hunting, while Mike Huckabee listed on stage the guns he grew up with, including his first BB gun at the age of five. Jeb Bush boasted of being an “NRA life member since 1986.” Ben Carson had to play defense. Some NRA types have grumbled about his statement in 2013 that people who live in large cities should avoid having semi-automatic weapons. Carson backtracked. And Ted Cruz, of course, topped them all by whipping out an Uzi and taking out the cameramen. Only one of those is made up.

Hillary announced her presidential candidacy last weekend, and unveiled the campaign logo: Yep.  I’m not kidding.  Someone on her staff is an absolute beast with Microsoft Paint. The reaction to the logo has been… not pleasant. Some suggested it looks like directions to a hospital.  Or a hurricane evacuation. Others wondered why the logo for a democratic candidate highlights a huge red arrow pointing right.  My own thoughts? Its dull, static, uninspiring, lifeless, and devoid of purpose. In other words, it fits her perfectly.

"Really, lady?  Only 20 bucks for the logo I made you?"

“Really, lady? Only 20 bucks for that logo I made you?”

Turns out not everyone loves Pope Francis. In Turkey, he’s about as popular as Obama at a KKK rally.  Why? Because Francis dropped the G word in discussing the one-hundred year anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by the Turks:  “In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies,” the Pope said at a Mass at with representatives of Armenia. “The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ struck your own Armenian people.”  Turkey responded by pulling their ambassador to the Vatican, and by calling his words, “unacceptable” and “out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis.” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian rebuked Turkey. “We are in a situation in which Turkey speaks a different language from the rest of the international community and it seems that it doesn’t understand that it is speaking a different language.”

Annegret Raunigk of Germany has 13 children, but her  youngest daughter, who is nine, wanted a little brother or sister. So Annegret is now expecting  … 4 more. This is after a year and half of artificial insemination. Did I mention that Ms. Raunigk is 65 years old?  Wait, what? A senior citizen giving birth to quadruplets? Annegret, do they not sell dolls over there?

Larry McElroy was outside his mother-in-law’s mobile home in Lee County, Georgia, on Sunday night when he decided to shoot an armadillo. No, I don’t know why.  It’s conceivable that alcohol was involved. According to Leroy, the bullet bounced off the armadillo, hit a fence, went through the back door of the mobile home, then through a chair and struck his mother-in-law.  Again, according to Leroy. Fortunately, 74-year-old Carol Johnson was not seriously hurt (though Christmas may be awkward this year). Officials are not considering filing any charges against McElroy, although they have recommended using different methods of armadillo removal in the future.

Armadillo 1, Larry 0

Armadillo 1, Larry 0

The new Star Wars trailer was released this week.  Thoughts?

What do Steve Taylor, Michael Card, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, and BeBe and CeCe Winans have in common? They were all signed by Billy Ray Hearns, the man who shaped Christian music more than any other person in the 70’s through 90’s. Hearn died Wednesday, at age 85.

Michael Kimmel of Kentucky was arrested for a DUI this week.  Or, more technically, an RUI.  It seems Mr. Kimmel was arrested for drunk-riding a horse. 

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West travelled to Israel so that their daughter, North West (nope, not kidding) could be baptized. “Kim Kardashian’s daughter will be baptized and become a Christian officially and a member of the Armenian church,” Archbishop Aris Shirvanian said. “All I know is that she’s a famous personality. I don’t know her in person. In any case she is welcome with her family.” d64 (2)

Did you know you can tell a person’s politics by the restaurant they choose? That is the claim made by a recent survey by Experian Marketing. This was reported after the Wall Street Journal fixated on Hillary’s campaign food with this headline: “Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle.” The WSJ even printed up the nice graphic below.   Not sure where you fit in?  You can find out if you are liberal or conservative by taking this seven-question survey of your restaurant choices.

46ac3530-c767-0132-46b2-0e9062a7590aWell, that’s it for this week.  I will be on a road trip Saturday, so will not be able to respond much.  As always, play nice.

And, hey, President Putin….ummmm, you know how to take a joke, right? I mean, didn’t you think some of them were a little funny? bce75a4833876ba231495f5bfe89fd1641f41a9e0024de5d92082981337607c8

]]> 194
Why People Move Between Different Church Traditions – A Hypothesis Fri, 17 Apr 2015 05:10:53 +0000 Movement


I was wondering a few weeks back, if perhaps people’s worship style preference could be directly correlated to their personality type.  I found this article that seemed to affirm that belief.  I asked our readers to guess what my Myers-Briggs personality type was based on what they knew of my worship style preferences and the way I approach church.  The first response was exactly right!  I started developing that thought a little bit.  That is, if we grew up in a church that didn’t fit our personality type, and wanted to make a change, what would that change look like?    I came up with diagram above.  With apologies to our Orthodox friends and others, I have simplified the American religious landscape into the three largest streams of Christian expression in the U.S.A.

Looking at the diagram from left to right we can make a few observations.

1.  A person who grows up in a liturgical Catholic Church whose personality does not fit well with a liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Evangelical Church

2. A person who grows up in a liturgical Mainline Protestant Church whose personality does not fit well with a liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Evangelical Church

3. A person who grows up in an Evangelical Church whose personality does not fit well with a non-liturgical style of worship, and decides to leave, has primarily two options:

  • Become one of the “Nones” –  Agnostic, Atheist, or no religious affiliation
  • Attend an Liturgical church.  My hypothesis in this case is that the move will primarily be to a Mainline church, as it will enable them to maintain certain elements of theology with which they are familiar, but attend a style of worship with which they are more comfortable.

4.  If the above hypothesis is correct, we would see the greatest hemorrhaging of attenders from the Catholic Church with two primary outflows, and the most stable numbers in the Evangelical Church with two outflows and two inflows.

I created the graph below a number of years ago from Pew Forum data. It represents people’s moves from the faith of their childhood to their current faith in adulthood.


As predicted, the two major moves out of Catholicism are to the Nones and the Evangelicals. The two major moves out of Mainline churches are to the Nones and the Evangelicals. Finally, the two major moves out of Evangelicalism are to the Nones and the Mainline Churches. Catholics had the strongest decrease in numbers, while Evangelicals remained relatively constant.

Does my hypothesis ring true to you? If so, what should churches do to counteract this? Should they do anything? I haven’t talked about those who have left the Nones, nor do I have a hypothesis about why they end up where they end up. Any ideas for me on this? I want to explore these ideas some more in future posts. As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

]]> 60
Easter: do we just not “get” it? Thu, 16 Apr 2015 04:01:38 +0000 Easter Sanctuary smDo we “get” Easter?

This year, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that I don’t really “get” Easter, and maybe a lot of the churches and Christians I’ve been around don’t either. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (Repeat 3x.) Yeah, then it’s back to Monday morning and life as usual.

This feeling became intensified when I tried to put together an Easter playlist of music to listen to throughout the Great Fifty Days of the season (didn’t know Easter lasted fifty days? — well, that helps makes part of my point). I found lots of songs about the cross and some of them ended with a climactic verse on the resurrection. But it was hard to find many songs that focused on the resurrection itself and its implications for our lives.

(Compare the number of Christmas songs with the number of Easter songs in any hymnal, or if you’re more hip than that, on any worship music site, and you’ll get the message about what’s more important to us.)

I did find a wonderful new album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, called Easter at Ephesus, and I highly recommend it. A whole collection of songs and every one reflecting on the resurrection and its meaning! That’s a rarity.

Then I came down here to Gethsemani. Of course, they follow the liturgical year and that means the normally austere sanctuary is decorated with flowers and a magnificent banner of the risen Christ that I can’t take my eyes off of when I’m in one of the services (see above). It is so grand that I think, “How can we just stand here and not look up with joy and hope and exhilaration every moment? How can we chant anything in a minor key or keep from dancing right here and now, with the risen Christ towering over us in glorious splendor?” The services are a bit more celebratory, but nothing like I imagine they could be.

I don’t think this is the fault of the Trappists, but of the liturgical tradition and a lack of imagination by those who practice it. Why, Fat Tuesday is more festive than most of the Sundays in Easter! Every service in this season should be filled with music like the Sinfonia from Bach’s Easter Oratorio, trumpets blaring. Priests and ministers should be splashing baptismal water over congregations each Lord’s Day, dousing them in new life, laughing and jubilant. Let’s have Easter parades galore! Kids’ events as rowdy and playful as egg hunts each week of the season! A continual feast of church suppers, concerts, extravaganzas! One thing our pastor has done since the beginning of the congregation has been to have a fish fry on one of the Sundays after Easter in remembrance of the story in John 21. Love it! Now if only we could have it on the beach!

Shouldn’t Easter Sunday unleash a season of festivity unlike any other? Shouldn’t it bring a time of celebration unmatched by any other season? Why is there not a flood of Easter music? Why not an entire season of feasting, rejoicing, doing good works, showing generosity, practicing hospitality, giving gifts, engaging in special mission and service projects, holding sacred concerts and art festivals, and decorating our homes, churches, and communities with beautiful reminders of new life and hope?

At least the liturgical churches do something. For many Christians outside those traditions, Easter is over at 12:01 Monday morning and it’s time to move on. Gotta get ready for Mother’s Day, I suppose.

But it’s not just what we do (or don’t do) when we get together this time of year. It’s the lack of theology, the lack of in-depth discussion, the lack of consideration, contemplation, and immersion in resurrection life that I’m missing in me and all around me. What difference does it make that Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father?

I mean, the entire New Testament is predicated on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead! Too many of us are content to merely try and prove that as a fact in the face of skepticism. Or we sidestep its implications for today by making it about: Jesus has risen, and now we’re going to heaven! Is that all it’s about? Apologetics? Angel wings?

And then I read this quote from Christian Wiman:

The problem with so much thinking about Christ’s resurrection and the promise that lies therein is the self-concern that is attendant upon, and often driving, this thought: resurrection matters because we matter, our individual selves; it matters because it is for us. But Christ’s death and resurrection ought to be a means of freeing us from precisely this kind of thinking, this notion of, and regard for, the self, which is the source of so much of our suffering and unhappiness. (“To hoard the self is to grow a colossal sense for the futility of living.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel) Instead, contemporary Christianity all too often preaches an idea of resurrection that is little more than a means of projecting our paltry selves ad infinitum, and the result is a grinning, self-aggrandizing, ironclad kind of happiness that has no truth in it.

My Bright Abyss, p. 165

Thankfully, I got help celebrating Easter Sunday this year, because April 5 was also Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season — for me the perfect alignment of heaven and earth!

But come on, the greatest day of our faith, and I need to watch the Cubs to make it better?

And then what? What about the other forty-nine days? What about the rest of my life?

Something’s wrong here. I don’t get it.

]]> 40