...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Mon, 22 Dec 2014 05:01:34 +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 Bess Mon, 22 Dec 2014 05:01:34 +0000 stock-footage-old-and-sick-woman-in-bed-is-cared-for-by-another-woman-bed-illness-caring

Bess was “really something.”

I heard that a number of times over the course of my visit. Her family loved her, but fully acknowledged that she was her own woman, independent to a fault. She knew what she wanted and usually got it without a lot of fuss or bother. Bess was “really something” and it was of little use arguing with her.

Once, after a stint in a rehab facility where they had a small columbary with birds, she liked it so much that she came home and had one built for herself, with a glass front so she could watch them climbing the branches, feeding, fluttering around. She placed it in her living room, filled it with birds, and spent the rest of her days enjoying them. She set cages in other rooms too — surrounded herself with little winged creatures who would naturally be off somewhere, flying freely in the sky were it not for Bess exerting her loving will over them. The house echoed with their chirping as Bess ruled over her aviary paradise.

Well into her nineties, Bess had outlived her friends. She’d proudly let you know that she was the oldest living member of her church, an old mainline Protestant congregation downtown with one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the city. Her mom was Baptist and her father Catholic, but her grandfather attended this church. Her parents gave her a choice as to where she would attend and she tried it out with grandpa on a Sunday morning. One look at the glorious altar, appointments, and stained glass, and she knew immediately this was where she wanted to be. The atmosphere was suitably regal for a young princess like her.

When she came into hospice care, she still lived in her home, functioned independently, and asked for help only when she needed it. She wasn’t even sure she needed our care team that much. Most patients see the nurse once or twice a week, but Bess wouldn’t hear of it. Once every two weeks it would be. The social worker and chaplain were lucky if we received permission to come monthly. Not that she wasn’t hospitable, she just had her terms. Our visits were always pleasant. She wasn’t snobby or stand-offish; I think she truly liked people and enjoyed conversation — when she wanted it.

bird-in-a-cageHer daughter didn’t come to stay until the final two weeks. By that time Bess was having trouble breathing and was getting weaker. She feared falling. She wasn’t ready for the bed yet, though. She had a long sofa in her TV room where she and her daughter spent most of their time, near her favorite parrot. They both slept on it at night.

Bess wouldn’t hear of getting a hospital bed. First of all it wasn’t practical. Her tiny cluttered house couldn’t absorb one, and she had no desire to change anything around anyway. No, when it was time, her own bed would work just fine. You got the idea that Bess would know when it was time.

The last time I visited Bess was a few days before she died. Over the weekend she had moved to the bed and it looked like she wasn’t getting out again.

I heard messages on our team voice mail about her decline and called on Monday to schedule a visit. Bess’s daughter, unlike her mother, did not hesitate for a moment in asking me to come. There she was in her twin bed, oxygen tubing draped over her face, looking drawn and tired. She smiled and talked to me in response to my greeting, but it was hard to understand her. I said a prayer asking God to bless her with comfort and peace and to help her family. I encouraged her to rest, and she smiled again and closed her eyes.

The office called and notified me about the death a few days later. I went to the home and met the nurse there, standing over Bess in her bedroom, her daughter and grandchildren at the bedside. We prayed together, then the nurse and I took care of the details, made the phone calls, kept checking on the family to make sure they had what they needed. After awhile, shortly before the care team from the funeral home arrived, we went to the bedroom one last time to see how everyone was doing.

They were talking about Bess, how she was “really something.” Someone commented on the beautiful satin dressing gown she was wearing.

Her daughter perked up. “You know, it was the strangest thing. Just last evening, I was tending to mom and she told me to take her clothes off. So I removed her pajamas and was getting ready to put a clean set on her. But she said no, she wanted me to take everything off of her. So I did and then she said, go to the closet in the spare room and get the green box that’s on the shelf. I retrieved it and inside was this lovely gown, brand new. Mom had me put it on her and then cover her up again.

“Then she looked at me and said, ‘Okay, it’s time. Let’s get on with it.’

“Now, this morning, she’s gone.”

That Bess, she was “really something.”

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Advent with Christina Rossetti (4) Sun, 21 Dec 2014 05:01:27 +0000 christina-rossetti

Christina Rossetti’s most familiar poem for this season of the year was penned in 1872. She called it simply, “A Christmas Carol,” and it was first published in Scribner’s Monthly Magazine.

The poem weaves its wonder through the vivid use of contrast: overall, the hard, cold bleakness of winter vs. the warmth of a newborn baby; the transcendent greatness of God vs. the small space of a stable; the worthiness of One whom the highest angels worship vs. the simple motherly affection of Mary.

This poem/hymn is a treasure to be savored. May meditating upon it enrich your spirit in this final week of Advent.

In the bleak mid-winter
20130116_123202Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Here is a lovely rendition of the hymn by Quire Cleveland, conducted by Ross W. Duffin, performing at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland OH. The tune was composed by Gustav Holst in 1906.

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Saturday Ramblings: Dec. 20, 2014 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 05:45:22 +0000 cd3600-santa-gal-in-rambler-christmas-cardSaturday Ramblings: December 20, 2014

The big week is here, and as you can see from today’s pic, the jolly old elf is warming up the Rambler for his long gift-dispensing trip. Are you ready?

The Mrs. and I are scrambling this weekend to get things ready around here. We have guests coming from the east and the north, and then we’ll be heading south to Nashville, TN for a few days after the big day. We’ll have kids and grandkids, aunts and uncles, cousins and grand-dogs bunking down here in the farmhouse for Christmas itself and we’re looking forward to the company. But before then, there are dust bunnies to be swept, guest rooms to be made up, groceries to get, stockings to fill and gifts to wrap.

Because things are hustling and bustling around here so much, I’m going to count on you to help with some of the ramblings today. We’ll be asking you to tell us about your plans for the week and some of the specific things you enjoy about Christmas time. There’s no time to waste — let’s ramble!


Let’s start with a Christmas party ice-breaker. We’ll go around the room and ask you to pick one of these topics to share with the group:

1. Your top three Christmas music albums.
2. Your top three Christmas movies.
3. Your three favorite appetizers or snacks at holiday get-togethers.
4. The best gift you ever gave and the best one you ever received.
5. Your favorite spiritual or church memory from Advent or Christmas.

This is obviously focused on Christmas and Christian celebrations. If you are from another religious tradition and would like to share some of your holiday favorites, we welcome that too.


Christmas time in the U.S. is always a big time for movies. I took my grandson to see the final installment of “The Hobbit” series last night in IMAX 3D, and I loved it. “The Battle of the Five Armies” is definitely the best of the hobbit movies and I think it ranks up there with “The Two Towers” as among the best in Peter Jackson’s collection.

Those of you who have seen it — do you agree with my assessment? Let’s have some LOTR and Hobbit banter today.

And the rambling mustn’t stop there! What other movies are you looking forward to seeing during the season? I’m thinking there will be a group from the Mercer house going to see Unbroken on Christmas Day or shortly thereafter.

I have no plans to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. If God doesn’t sound like Charlton Heston, I might just as well give up on this religion thing.


At RNS, David Gibson asks a question I swear I have never considered before: “Jesus certainly wasn’t a bottle baby. So what happened to Mary’s breasts?” He is referring to the fact that artistic representations of the Virgin Mother breastfeeding the infant Jesus were once commonplace but are now virtually non-existent in our Christian devotion.

BernhardClairvaux_Lactatio_SourceUnknownDid you know, in fact, that near the Church of the Nativity there is another sacred site, the Milk Grotto Church, where it is said that the Virgin Mary suckled her baby in an underground cave as she and Joseph hid during the slaughter of the innocents and before they fled to Egypt? That same tradition says that some of Mary’s breast milk dripped on the stones of the cave, turning them a milky white hue. Both Christians and Muslims believe scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility. Mothers usually mix it in their drinking water; would-be mothers place the rock under their mattresses. There is also an old tradition that identifies this as the burial site of Herod’s young victims.

Despite this ongoing veneration, Gibson points out that the development of the printing press in the 15th century led to the rise of visual pornography and the sexualizing of women’s bodies, which made Marian breastfeeding images troublesome to onlookers. Also, a rise in anatomical texts demystified the body and undermined sacred depictions. Furthermore, Protestantism’s emphasis on the biblical text and the iconoclasm that often accompanied it discouraged the use of all images and especially those prompting devotion to Mary. This was a radical departure from earlier art. In fact, the earliest known fresco of Mary shows her breastfeeding Jesus. And St. Bernard of Clairvaux was even shown kneeling before the lactating Mary as she squirted breast milk into his mouth.

Can you imagine art like this in churches today? What a strange mix of over-sexed voyeurs and puritanical ascetics we are!


Finally, on a serious note, I urge us all, in the midst of our celebrations this week to remember those who have no opportunity to be with their families or friends, especially those who are suffering for their faith. For two years now, there has been a movement to maintain awareness, for example, about Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. Saeed has written a Christmas letter, which begins with these heart-rending words:

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

Pastor Saeed represents many people who are faceless and nameless to us, who nevertheless are our brothers and sisters in the faith of Christ and who are “the least of these” in the world — poor, naked, hungry and thirsty, and imprisoned. There is no better time than now, when we remember him who was rich who became poor for our sake, to lift up heartfelt prayers of supplication for God to bring relief to these suffering brethren. And to do whatever we can to support and help them.

Merry Christmas.

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My Ancestors’ (not so great) Interaction with the Church (Part 2 – Dress Code Excommunication) Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:18:59 +0000
Frey Family - Lois at center top

Frey Family – Lois at center top

My Grandmother, Lois Grace Frey, was an extraordinary women. Her parents were pioneering missionaries to Africa with the Brethren in Christ in 1905. The Brethren in Christ were a branch of the Mennonite tree, with Wesleyan influences. My Great-grandfather, Harvey Jacob Frey, founded Mtshabezi mission in what is now known as Zimbabwe where he established a school for girls. The family returned to the U.S. in 1924, in order to give the children a high school education. When her parents returned to Africa, Lois stayed behind. She was accepted into Taylor University in Indiana where she graduated with a B.A. in 1930. This was at a time when very few women attended university.

LeslieGeorgeBarhamShe returned to Africa soon after graduation, where she was soon put to work training teachers for Mtshabezi mission. Her father passed away in 1936. Lois was in charge of the School when my Grandfather, Leslie George Barham showed up, asking if he could show movies to the children. They soon became good friends. My Grandfather was interested in doing Christian work in much more primitive conditions in what is now Zambia. He asked Lois if she would marry him and join him in this work, and she agreed.

This was where things got difficult. Her mission organization was against the marriage. Among the items that were raised was that my Grandfather was worldly, as evidenced by the fact that he wore a tie! She decided to follow her heart, and resigned from the organization, at which point her friends were ordered to “shun” her, and to have nothing further to do with her. They were told to ignore her, even if she passed them in the street. She was very hurt by this decision. I wonder if it might have turned out differently had my Great-grandfather still been alive.

House at KalunduMy Grandmother and Grandfather moved up to Zambia where they built a thatched roof house at Kalundu. Their nearest English speaking neighbors were 80 miles away. They faced danger from wild animals on a regular basis. Lions killed their cattle, and their kitchen was even invaded by lions one night. One pot was punctured by a lion’s teeth. Their dog was killed by a leopard as they walked a lady home one evening. My mother and uncle were born into this environment and faced many of the same dangers. On a lighter note: The family transport was a motorcycle that could fit all four family members at once!
CrocodileMy Grandfather’s first claim to fame occurred in 1932. He was asked to shoot a crocodile that had just killed a child. He found it, and shot it, and was posing for a picture while sitting on its back, when everyone took off running. He had only stunned it! He quickly jumped up and shot it again. He is probably one of the only people in the world who has sat on the back of a live man eating crocodile!

BibleTranslationHow worldly was my Grandfather? Well, among other things, he decided to spend his life doing Bible Translation, and produced the first Bible in Bemba, the trade language of Zambia. With all the revisions that he did, he ended up typing through the Bible seven times on a manual typewriter.

My earliest memories are of them visiting Canada in the 1960s. We moved to Africa for four years in the 1970s, and I got to spend a lot of time with them over the holidays. Christmas charades were a yearly highlight.

After my Grandfather’s death, my Grandmother came to live with us in Canada. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with cancer. I came to realize how brilliant she was, that, even while she was dying, every day she would complete the New York Times cryptic crossword puzzle.

Today, whenever I hear a debate about dress codes in church, I nod and smile, and sometimes tell the story of a woman who got excommunicated because her husband-to-be wore a tie.

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Lisa Dye: Parousia! Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:01:04 +0000 The Holy Eucharist, Kharlamov

The Holy Eucharist, Kharlamov, Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg

When my children were little, I diligently taught and enforced their close adherence to my side as we got in and out of the car, walked into stores, church or any other place. Looking back, I wasn’t strict or controlling in most respects. In fact, all my daughters voiced at one time or another that they wished I had been more demanding of them academically or musically or athletically. Rightly or wrongly, I opted not to nag.

Despite my deficiencies in many areas, I mastered this one aspect of parenting. Due to my compulsive anxiety over child predators and careless drivers in parking lots, I did a stellar job getting my little brood in and out of public places with no stragglers, no losses and no near misses. Yes, I drilled that into them so well, that I would frequently turn around in a panic not seeing my little four-year-old and quietly call out in barely contained hysteria. “Where are you?”

“I’m right here,” a little voice would chirp in reply.

“Oh!” There she was … so close I couldn’t see her when I turned around … like a shadow, right on my heels. Always. It happened so often you would think I’d have learned and stopped those panicky little spazz outs. Each of my little ones was always coming along with me, always right with me, never ever daring to defy me by running ahead or lagging behind. There was a short invisible string tied between me and them and it stayed that way until I eventually ceded it to the buddy system. When they were finally old enough, that invisible string kept them tied to each other shopping at malls, exploring the fields behind our house and finally on teenage driving ventures.

This remembrance came to me one night as I sat in my N.T. Greek class listening to my teacher discuss parousia. In a few concise, but loaded words, parousia, the Greek version of the Latin advent, means “coming,” “arrival” and also “presence.” How strange that this word can simultaneously refer to something that has happened, is yet to happen and already is. Jesus is has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus is always here.

This thought also led me to another thought … that of babies. I have had three of them. Walking through the events of my middle daughter’s pregnancy recently conjured vivid recollections of my own experiences. As each baby grew inside, I could feel its flutters and turnings under a hand on my belly, the shallow depth of stretched muscle, membrane and skin. There was a thin veil of separation between us, a bit of human flesh. But a baby was on its way. This child I’d never met was right there within me and not yet arrived. Maybe an ultrasound made the facial profile vivid or revealed its gender or showed it sucking its thumb in the womb. Maybe this baby had hiccups every afternoon at 3:00, but I never really knew my babies until they arrived.

Every parent knows the magic of first seeing a long awaited child. It is pure amazement, even if the baby bears striking resemblance to mother or father. There is familiarity, but in a previously unknown and unique package … a fresh and unexpected revelation. As the child grows and develops through its first months and into the years to come, there is more revelation … the full flowering of a person who is always present, but continually emerging in a deeper and richer way.

Last Supper, Negri

Last Supper, Negri

I’m not Catholic (though my husband has coined the term Protholic to describe me), but I was interested when I recently heard a priest talking about a part of the Mass called the epiclesis where he invokes Christ’s presence upon the Communion elements and rings bells to signify the moment. He said that when he was a little boy sitting in the pew, his mother would tell him, “Richard, when you hear the bells, Jesus is coming.” A day or two after I heard this, it dawned on me that epiclesis is a two-part Greek word. Epi, means “upon” or “on,” depending on the case. It indicates personal touching. Clesis is from ka-lei-o meaning “to call.” During the epiclesis, the priest calls for the real presence of Christ to come upon the bread and the wine … to touch it. The epiclesis happens in every Mass a million places around the world. It has been happening over and over for 2,000 years. Christ has come to us, but he is always still coming.

Like a baby whose arrival we await, Christ is in our midst and yet always about to arrive. “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror …” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The veil of our human flesh prevents us from discerning the full revelation of him. And in his kindness, his own human flesh has veiled us from the burning brightness of His Majesty. Yet, as we call upon him in prayer, receive him in Communion, encounter him in Scripture, live in his Body, the Church, and are enlivened by the breath of his Spirit, we know him more … little by little. Christ is always coming to us until the day of his final coming when we will know him fully.

Luke’s gospel fascinates me for its account of the time just prior to Jesus’ coming. Whenever I read chapters 1 and 2, I get a distinct impression of an atmosphere of human longing and a mighty, unseen working of God about to manifest in time and space. I wish I could know what it felt like to live then. The angel prophesying to Zechariah and Elizabeth regarding their son, John, who would be known as The Baptizer, said, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Seven hundred years previously, the prophet Isaiah wrote of John, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). The time for Christ’s coming was imminent. The earth must have groaned in eager anticipation of it.

ALTO 6The theme in these verses, tied together through the centuries, is preparation. Preparation is something we hear much about during the season of Advent. For many of us, the true sense of it is lost in the hustle and bustle of our other preparations … preparations that are visible and tangible. But getting ready for the coming of the Lord is not about wrapping gifts or hanging the decorations or sprucing up the guest bedroom. It is about preparing a highway in the dry deserts of our hearts. John’s mission, according to the angel, was to turn fathers to the loving care of their children, to smooth out hard stony paths to the center of souls, to elicit repentance that would call out in need of a Savior. Jesus was coming.

Later in Luke’s gospel, some Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming. He answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20,21), reiterating that the most important aspect of advent takes place deep within us. The coming of the kingdom is shrouded in mystery, carried in Christ incarnate. It bypasses the overt and observable and takes up residence in those prepared to receive him. The kingdom was among them, within them and around them. It had arrived because Jesus had brought it. He was standing there in their midst, true God from true God, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. The kingdom was in a person … Jesus. Jesus was here.

If Jesus was here and his kingdom was here, why did he then instruct us to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)? He told us in Luke 17 that God’s kingdom had arrived, but here he seems to be saying, “Pray that it continues to arrive.” It is through continual preparation, the relentless dislodging of boulders of bitterness, the diligent straightening of the highways to our hearts. Never stop. Jesus would always be coming.

We celebrate Advent or parousia, like the epiclesis, over and over, throughout the earth It is a vivid picture of an invisible reality. The preparation for Christ’s coming is a continuous action because he is always on his way to us, until we receive him completely. Every boulder we dig from our depths, every prayer of submission we whisper, every turning of our hearts to our people brings the revelation of Christ in human flesh, a fresh advent of the mystery of Emmanuel … God with us.

Father, help us not despise or diminish these days of rites and rituals. They are divine dramas, given to us by you and acted on our human stage until the advent, the parousia, the coming of Christ is perceived entirely, the veil that darkens our spirits is lifted and we see him face to face.

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iMonk Classic: The Mood of Advent: We All Need A Savior Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:01:33 +0000 Art-Cg-Digital-Nature-Landscapes-Dark-Farm-Rustic-Night-Sky-Clouds-Iphone-Wallpaper

I have several friends who are doing Advent in their Baptist churches for the first time, and they have lots of questions about candles and logistics. I wish there were more questions about Advent itself.

For example, the mood of Advent is dark and serious. It’s not the mood of Lent, which is a particular kind of seriousness as the shadow of the cross extends over our path. It’s the mood of darkness that comes because the world is in darkness.

We need a savior.

This is the time that we stop and see that the powers of evil are entrenched in the world. Evil authorities and and evil persons are having their way. A good creation is being ruined. Hearts made for love and light are imprisoned, crying out and empty.

There is war, terror, the loss of innocence and the curses of ignorance, poverty and death. The wise men of this age are propagating nonsense. Men and women made in God’s image are addicted to the worst the darkness has to offer. They think backwards and cannot find their way out of the dungeon. They have lost their will to live and love, and have settled for the cheapest and palest of imitations.

Advent’s darkness includes the failure of religion to bring any light to this fallen and dying world. Religion has become as empty as fool’s errand as can be imagined. The religious take themselves seriously, but the world hears the hollowness of it all.

In the Christian family itself, the prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the very savior it claims to proclaim. Western Christians plunge into the pagan celebration, spending thousands on themselves and their children. We spend enough on our lights to save thousands upon thousands of lives. But those lives are in the darkness of Advent’s waiting. Our “lights” are nothing more than an extension of that darkness. They have nothing to do with the true light that comes to the world.

big_thumb_0af6fbecfb4fad87efd588d3789a483dThe real center of Advent’s dark mood is that we need a savior. We who sing and go to church for musicals and eat too much and buy too much and justify the season by our strange measurements of suffering.

We light candles and wait because, after looking around and taking stock, there should be no doubt that we need a savior.

Ironically, after 2,000 years of offering our Savior to others, we- Christians- need one more than ever. When we mark ourselves has “having” Christ more than “needing” Christ, we miss the Spirit of the Advent season.

Despite the fact that the world needs a savior, those offering him and his story to the world look no more “saved” than anyone else. In fact, with an extra facade of religion or two, we seem to be in every bit as bad a shape as the world we call “lost.”

The mood of Advent is that we are all lost. Advent isn’t about the “saved” telling the “lost” to “get saved.” Advent is a light that dawns in all of our darknesses. Advent is bread for all of our hungers. Advent is the promise kept for all of us promise-breakers, betrayers and failures.

Can we find a way to celebrate Advent as those who NEED to be saved? As those who NEED a savior? Not as those who know for certain that someone else does?

Scripture says that we who had not received mercy have now received mercy. Those who were nobodies are now the people of God.

The key to Advent is not living as if we are the people of God and always have been. The key is to live as if we need a Savior, and he has come to us, found us, saved us and is there for everyone in the world.

The mood of Advent isn’t “come be religious like us.” It is “We are all waiting for our Savior to be born. Let us wait together. And when he comes, let us recognize him, together.”

When the day dawns, let us all receive him. We go to the manger and worship. We give to him our gifts. We take his light to the poor.

Until then, we are the poor, the weak, the blind, the lonely, the guilty and the desperate. We light candles because we who are in darkness are in need of a great light. We need a savior.

So we wait amidst the ruins, we protect the lights we hold in hope. We sing to one who is coming. We look and wonder. We pray for his star to take us, once again, to the miracle.


Originally posted December 2007

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For my wife on our 36th wedding anniversary Tue, 16 Dec 2014 05:01:17 +0000 Scan 1

A poem by Wendell Berry . . .


ScanTo tell a girl you loved her — my God! —
that was a leap off a cliff, requiring little
sense, sweet as it was. And I have loved

many girls, women too, who by various fancies
of my mind have seemed loveable. But only
with you have I actually tried it: the long labor,

the selfishness, the self-denial, the children
and grandchildren, the garden rows planted and gathered,
the births and deaths of many years.

We boys, when we were young and romantic
and ignorant, new to the mystery and the power,
would wonder late into the night on the cliff’s edge:

Was this love real? Was it true? And how
would you know? Well, it was time would tell,
if you were patient and could spare the time,

a long time, a lot of trouble, a lot of joy.
This one begins to look — would you say? — real?

by Wendell Berry
from Leavings: Poems

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Another Look: This is not where I live Mon, 15 Dec 2014 05:01:46 +0000 The Scream, Munch

The Scream, Munch

One. At breakfast with a local pastor the other morning, he told me if there was one thing he could change in his congregation, it would be that people would stop listening to news and political pundits that make them angry.

Two. One of our long faithful readers sent me an email the other day. It included this paragraph:

I quit blogging and am starting to question the wisdom/value of the constant deluge of information pouring into our homes via the internet.  I came to the conclusion that I really did not have enough things of value to say to warrant a full time blog column.  There is only so much information we can process and incorporate into our lives, especially when much of blogging is really opinion columns.Comment threads are notoriously poor platforms for substantive debate, and make it easy to abuse others.  As Ecclesiastes said, ‘Of the writing of books there is no end.’ So it is with blog posts. No one has something profound and important to say all the time.  My time is probably better spent tending to my vocation and  reading the Scriptures and praying.  I have pared my bookmarks way, way, down, and have a much smaller ‘blog circuit’ that I visit every day. I am striving for a more minimalistic use of the web.

Three. A friend I’ve known since middle school is quitting Facebook. He has been a journalist and writer for his career, and he’s fed up. He is writing a series of “goodbye” posts explaining his reasoning. Here are some excerpts from the first two:

After a long time in the media, I think I’m qualified to conclude that Facebook in particular and social media in general is neither social nor media.

. . . They used to complain about the “media elite” and there was great truth to much of that. But the new “media democracy” there also is much to fear.

The real answer is really an old one with a new twist: Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t write everything you believe, because not everyone shares those beliefs. While discourse on these issues is important, even vital, Facebook is a terrible place to conduct discourse.

. . . Instead of creating honest to goodness political forums where candidates are asked to discuss and debate the issues of the day, Facebook has decided to be the electronic equivalent of a bulletin board at a laundromat. Facebook doesn’t promote democratic discourse; it simply gives a home to the politically frustrated. It is depressing and disheartening to read. So I’ve decided to stop.

One last point on this topic: those of you who beat your chests while decrying the morals and politics of the day must remember that your vote counts the same as everyone else’s. Putting your views on Facebook doesn’t make you right. It just makes you louder.

Three strikes. Maybe it’s time for a reality check here at Internet Monk as well.

Today, I’m pulling out a post from 2010 so we can give it another look together. I’ve edited the old article for this posting, but it is substantially the same. If you would like to read the original piece, go HERE.

• • •

lets-just-stop-the-old-vs-new-media-argumentWriting on Internet Monk plays a big part in my daily work and schedule. Carrying on the legacy of Michael Spencer, who had such a unique voice and perspective to share, is a joy and challenge, and I find it exhilarating. Your company has been stimulating as well, and the conversations we enjoy have enriched my thinking.

However, I want you to know that . . . This is not where I live.

There is no “Internet Monastery” where blog writers conduct their daily lives. My blogging life coexists with a life of marriage, children, grandchildren, hospice chaplaincy, my local congregation, friends, and other relationships and responsibilities. Being an internet monk is not a cloistered life.

And these discussions we have, as valuable as they may be, are just conversations. They occur in a funny place, a unique forum made possible by incredible technology which has created a faceless, fleshless place — a place of less than real relationships. It is, by and large, a good place, with many benefits. We can be better informed. We can learn from each other. We can prompt each other to think. We can ponder and evaluate our positions on various subjects.

The blog world is like a classroom on a day in which the prof leads a discussion, a forum in the public square, a group of strangers bellying up to the bar at a watering hole, hanging around the lounge at seminary, meeting people from other churches in the fellowship hall at a conference and sharing observations about the things you’re experiencing. You say a little something. You hear a little something. Then you go get coffee and move on. Eventually you go home.

But it is not life.

This issue goes beyond the internet, blogs, or one’s view of a particular blogger. It’s the entire media-saturated culture in which we’re immersed in our time.

I’m concerned that:

  • far too many of our opinions and “convictions,”
  • too much of what we think the church should “stand for,”
  • too many of our political positions and perspectives,
  • too many of our culture war attitudes,
  • too much of the stuff we hear from the pulpit and talk about in the narthex at church,
  • too many of the attitudes we have toward our neighbors, the public schools, liberals or conservatives,
  • too many of our judgments about people in various socio-economic classes and lifestyles,

are not being formed by experiences lived out in daily events where we actually relate to others and learn to deal with matters in active, personal ways.


  • we watch Fox News or MSNBC,
  • listen to Rush or watch Jon Stewart,
  • surf the watchblogs that conform to our views,
  • join causes and groups on Facebook and post their slogans,
  • confirm our opinions on the basis of forwarded emails.
  • I become a “Glenn Beck” guy or a “Jim Wallis” guy.
  • I tell the world what I believe by my bumper stickers and T-shirts.

I guess what I’m saying is that we are creating a host of “media-shaped” people. These are folks whose inner world is defined and formed by what they get from media outlets.

I have to remind myself every now and then that most of this is bluster and noise. It’s not life. Frankly, I’ve turned most of it off. The pundits have become propagandists. Spectacle and screaming trumps truth.

Furthermore, on Internet Monk, I can’t let myself get all emotionally invested in some guy who declares me a heretic in a blog comment for my views on Genesis 1 (though some days that’s hard to do). It is just a public discussion, folks. It’s not my life.

Corbis-42-28092316My life happens in a small town in central Indiana. I live it with my wife, children, grandkids, and neighbors. My life involves talking with them, praying for them, helping them, being forgiven by them when I mess up. It’s eating meals together, talking about the little things we’ve done throughout the day, coordinating our schedules, staying in touch, keeping short accounts. My life involves singing in the choir at my church, going to practice, cutting up with the rest of the tenors. In my life, I greet fellow townsfolk at Walmart or Starbucks, or visit a friend in the hospital whose spouse is having surgery.

Many hours of this life are spent doing my daily work as a hospice chaplain. I drive around the city, visiting folks in their homes, in hospitals, and other facilities. I have face-to-face conversations with them. Surprise! Most of these conversations don’t involve swapping the kinds of slogans I get in forwarded emails. No, these talks take place in the context of actual living and dying. We talk about what’s happening to someone’s body right in front of us. We talk about the feelings raised by this, the spiritual issues, and what dad’s going to do when his wife of 62 years walks through death’s door and leaves him behind. We share memories, stories, moments of silence, tears and laughter.

My fellow team members are a huge part of my life too, and I highly value their relationships. We meet and talk and laugh together, respect the expertise each one brings to the work, consult on difficult questions, help each other in practical ways, and support each other when it all gets heavy. We also recognize that each person has a full and meaningful life outside the team, and so we try to be sensitive, caring, and available as friends for one another.

This is life. Real life. Daily life. Faces. Flesh. Conversations. Decisions. Relationships.

I’m worried about churches in our current electronic and cyber-culture. Reliance upon programmed approaches and technology can easily promote “sound-bite” theology, activity masquerading as meaningful interaction with others, and a culture that “takes stands” on the big issues of the day, but cares little for actually knowing and loving one’s neighbor. But you already know my thoughts and feelings about that.

I love Internet Monk. It has a place.

And I honestly appreciate all of you who read and participate. It’s an exceptional online community, a vibrant conversation.

But it’s not where I live. Nor should it be for you.

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Advent with Christina Rossetti (3) Sun, 14 Dec 2014 05:01:14 +0000 victorian-christmas

The third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday. In the midst of the Advent fast, we encouraged to rejoice in the Lord.

This day has a counterpart in Lent: Laetare Sunday. Both come just past the midpoint of a penitential season and are designed as merciful reprieves from the demands of fasting so that the Church might be encouraged in the feast to come. On both Sundays, the purple vestments are swapped out for pink or rose-colored ones, and the theme is joy and rejoicing. The introit for Gaudete is Philippians 4:4 — “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

This gives us an opportunity to meditate on one of Christina Rossetti’s brighter, more joyful Christmas poems. Though she is known for painting word pictures of the season’s bleakness, she also contributed lovely texts that enthusiastically celebrate the light, joy, and warmth of Christ’s coming.

One of my favorites is this lyric she wrote for Christmas Eve, which effectively sets forth the contrasts of the season in a way that brings light out of the darkness. And what makes the difference? — “Jesus, born for us so low.”

db_Christmas_Traditions0191Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Born for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all the Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

For this joy, we eagerly wait!

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Saturday Ramblings: Dec. 13, 2014 — Gaudete Edition Sat, 13 Dec 2014 07:01:30 +0000 B16267Saturday Ramblings — December 13, 2014

Quick! Why is the third candle on the Advent Wreath pink and not purple or dark blue like the others?

Answer: Because the third Sunday in Advent is different. It is known as Gaudete (Rejoicing) Sunday. On this day, having passed the midpoint of Advent, the Church lightens the mood a little, the third candle is a lighter color and the vestments in the church may also match that. The change in color reminds us that our “redemption draws near” and provides us with encouragement to continue our spiritual preparations.

In the spirit of Gaudete Sunday, we’re going to lighten the mood a bit this week and look at some of the funnier and sillier things we saw on the world wide web this past week.

• • •

fe22bb94-5da1-48ac-8193-9764283aec2b-584x600We begin with a fashion statement: The ultimate bad interfaith Christmas sweater.

Made by the Leicester-based British Christmas Jumpers, the stunning sweater you see here features the Christian cross, the Star of David, the Islamic crescent and star, and the Hindu Aum, plus the yin-yang sign, a snowflake and a Christmas tree. There’s also a peace symbol and an atom, covering the atheist bases.

Apparently this was just too much for many people, who took to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to decry the sweater as “political correctness gone mad.” But that’s not deterring the company from hoping this novelty item will bring folks together in the spirit of the season:

Britain has never been more multicultural, so we thought we’d create a Christmas jumper with a twist – something that brings people from all walks of life together in the spirit of love, joy and festive cheer. We think everyone should be able to wear a British Christmas Jumper and celebrate the festive season – however they wish, no matter what their colour, creed or culture. This is why you’ll see all the world’s major religions represented on this high quality factory-knitted Christmas jumper, proudly made in Britain.

My only question would be: what color pants should I wear with this?

Frozen Service 2

Need a fun church event where you can wear your new Christmas sweater? It seems that one of the rages this year is for churches to hold events and services based on the Disney movie, “Frozen.”

Alert reader Dave sent me some pictures and links of congregations that are using the Disney film to attract crowds. One church in Phoenix, in fact, is shipping in over 15 tons of snow and creating a sledding area for kids. They’ll be having a photo booth where you can have your picture taken with Queen Elsa and Princess Anna and get a chance to be selected to sing a “Frozen” song with them at a special performance. There will be toys and gift cards and prizes of all kinds.

I have a little three year old granddaughter who eats, drinks, breathes and lives “Frozen.” And we have a lot of fun with it. I must say, though, I personally don’t see a Disney movie as particularly apt for helping people focus on the incarnate Christ.

What do you think, my iMonk friends? Does this sound like something Jesus will be showing up for?


I once accused Ken Ham of “Disney-izing” Christianity. Disney takes classic stories and turns them into cartoons. Which is what Ham and the Answers in Genesis crowd do with the Bible. And like Disney, they think it should be done on a large scale, with theme parks and attractions and rides and fun for the whole family.

But there’s a big problem. The organization has tried to fund part of their newest venture, The Ark Encounter, by getting public tax incentives from the state of Kentucky. Now, the state has said no.

“State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion,” Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart wrote in the letter. “The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

Having received a lot of criticism about this of late, Ham’s organization is putting up billboards (like the one pictured above) across Kentucky and elsewhere, which address the ministry’s “intolerant liberal friends,” i.e. anyone who says anything critical about them.

ucs-banners-3DMore ugly Christmas sweaters . . .

Maybe the interfaith Christmas sweater was too, well, pious or goody-goody for you. Never fear. We found the source for awesome ugly Christmas sweaters. has just what you never imagined you’d ever be looking for — a creation sure to put you right in the tacky center of your Christmas party — like the awesome 3D sweater on the right. Here’s their pitch:

We happen to be the leading provider of this particular type of holiday tackiness and as such we have been featured in such media outlets as Trend Hunter, USA Today and the NY Times! Why are you still reading this? Go find your Ugly Christmas Sweater!

Warning: some of the sweaters they sell are on the “naughty” end of the spectrum, but there’s nothing too explicit.

Hey Gail, I’ll take a Christmas Story Fragile Leg Lamp Sweater, size XL.

Meanwhile, at the movies . . .

Yesterday, the new biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings opened nationwide. Anyone see it yet? Planning to see it? Heard any good reviews or recommendations?

Here’s the trailer:


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