Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Walk the World Like the Pardon of God - Brian Zahnd

G.K. Chesterton suggested that Saint Francis of Assisi “walked the world like the pardon of God.”It’s an apt summary of the saint’s life. In his wonderful and unique way Saint Francis embodied the grace of God as he walked the hills of Umbria barefoot in his patched brown habit and simple rope belt preaching to birds and bishops. His life was a kind of performance art protest against the pervasive sins of thirteenth century Italy — pride, avarice, corruption, and violence.
Yet sinners were drawn to Francis. How else do we explain that within Francis’ lifetime forty thousand people joined his rigorous order of radical Christianity emphasizing poverty, simplicity and humility? Like Jesus, Francis could uncompromisingly denounce systemic sin, while extending genuine compassion to the people caught in its pernicious web. To be a prophetic witness against systems of sin and a preacher of God’s pardon for sinners at the same time is the peculiar grace Francis excelled at and the church is called to.
Two years before his death Francis retreated to the secluded hermitage at La Verna in the mountains of Tuscany for a protracted season of prayer. While there he experienced a mystical vision that resulted in his stigmata — the reproduction of the wounds of Christ in his own body. Francis bore these painful wounds until his death in 1226. Admittedly, this is a mysterious phenomenon, but I am willing to view it as Francis’ final dramatic testament to how the church is to be present in the world. Along with being a prophetic witness against the principalities and powers, and bearing joyful witness to the pardon of God, the church is called to participate in the sufferings of Christ.

The only Christian theodicy which I find credible is the confession that God does not exempt himself from the horror of human suffering, but is fully baptized into it. God in Christ joins us in a solidarity of suffering, and somehow by his wounds we are healed. Christ saves us from sin and death only by hurling himself into the abyss. The ultimate imitation of Christ is to patiently absorb sin and offer pardon in the name of love. This is grace.

It's Either Old or New – It Can't Be Both by Greg Albrecht

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. —Colossians 3:12-17
It's Either Old or New—It Can't Be Both! I would like to introduce two special guests. Before going any further, I should explain that our special guests will appear as caricatures—in the form of a communication that they might have had with each other—so that there is, as far as I know, no actual resemblance to anything they've ever said to each other, if indeed they ever had a one-on-one conversation. I hope that clears me—that's my disclaimer. 

Our first guest is Martha Stewart. 

Martha Stewart has come, over the past few decades, to symbolize the paragon of a dutiful, skilled, energetic and creative homemaker. Martha Stewart is, of course, an empire. Martha Stewart is a television personality, author, editor and homemaking advocate. Her business empire consists of the domestic arts, cooking and crafts, but her name symbolizes virtual perfection, the pinnacle of consummate, flawless achievement in the skills and talents of homemaking. 

She has become, in many minds, the ideal and the dream. The unattainable perfection she seems to personify has come to be vilified, humorously so, by those who fall short of the ideal Martha Stewart represents as a homemaker. 

Our second guest is Erma Bombeck. 

Erma Bombeck embodied, largely by her own self-deprecating depictions, the other end of the spectrum of perfection and idealism. Erma Bombeck died in 1996. 

In this fictitious exchange, Erma Bombeck does not symbolize the dream of perfection—she symbolizes the reality that many homemakers live with. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Warning: Thinking Maybe Be Hazardous To Your Religion - Greg Albrecht

Aristotle is credited with saying that it is a mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it. That same attribute is one of the hallmarks of a life in Christ. There are two central facets involved in a Christ-follower entertaining a thought without accepting it: 
1) the spiritual dynamic of the Spirit of God living in us who "will teach you all things" (John 14:26), and 2) the human dynamic of critical thinking.

I'm sure that every generation laments that it seems its youth have lost the ability to think, and let me join the parade. But let's not just make this a rant about young people. Lack of critical thinking is not a deficiency restricted to our youth, but it seems like irrational actions abound in all age groups. For example, let's think and talk about a topic we can't talk about almost anywhere (even in church) for fear of offending someone. Let's talk about religion.
In the world of religion, thinking can land you in hot water. No doubt about it. So why should I encourage you to think about religious stuff?

One Thing Is Needed - Lazar Puhalo

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42.
Christians need to regularly examine whether we have mere religion, or are rather struggling to have a life in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is the true goal of our Christian life. 

Perhaps we might consider spending less energy trying to judge and condemn and correct others and focus far more on the condition of our own spiritual lives. It seems to me that the myth of a "holy nation" (i.e., one in which extreme political repression forces people to externally observe what one or another religious group thinks they should observe) has drained much of Christianity of its true vocation and made it a form of narcissism and neurosis. 

Religion is more about "do it my way or die and burn in hell" than it is about a living faith that calls us to a life in Christ, a life of compassion and healing in the world. So much of Christianity has become primarily a worldly political agency with an ideological agenda, based mostly in militaristic patriotism that is no more than self-adoring chauvinism, or a commercial enterprise that markets magic and delusion. 

Jesus Christ is too often little more than a mantra--a feel good about yourself mantra, a sort of "hell avoidance technique" with no sign of any inner transformation in the followers of the religion. We need a soul and heart of transforming faith in the risen Christ, and life in Christ, not a Christian imitation of Iran or a brutal school of moralism, devoid of the very essence of true morality which resides in love, the hinge of the law and the prophets defined by our Saviour.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

J is for Jesus - Bono

At this time of year some people are reminded of the poetic as well as the historic truth that is the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story has a crazy good plot with an even crazier premise - the idea goes, if there is a force of love and logic behind the universe, then how amazing would it be if that incomprehensible power chose to express itself as a child born in shit and straw poverty.

Who could conceive of such a story? If you believe it was the protagonist, as I do, then we should try to be really respectful of people who think the whole thing is a bit nutty or worse... Religious people are the best and worst of us...handle us with scepticism...

Strangely, maybe, some of the most rational thinkers see some kind of cosmic sense in all this... Francis Collins, who led the human genome project, is an obvious one… the language of science and faith are not necessarily at odds....

Earlier this year the Hewsons got to see the view that John had as he wrote the Book of Revelation in a cave on the Greek island of Patmos. I can't make head nor tail of that book but I love the idea that he was taken by a vision... a poetic rhapsody of man describing what looks like a nuclear firestorm ending the world.

William Blake was similarly seized by visions which he tried to write or draw. We stole the title "Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience" from Blake. You can't approach the subject of God without metaphor... literalism like legalism is an attempt to shrink God to recreate him in our own image.

Almost as glorious as that cave is the Matisse Chapel in Vence, France, which we visited this year with a friend on her birthday. The birthday girl couldn't get over the fact that Matisse designed not only the stained glass but the priests' vestments which can only be described as, eh, 70s Funkadelic. The chapel opened in 1951.

But back to the Christmas story that still brings me to my knees - which is a good place for me lest I harm myself or others. Christmas is not a time for me to overthink about this child, so vulnerable, who would grow so strong... to teach us all how vulnerability is the route to strength and, by example, show us how to love and serve.

To me this is not a fairy tale but a challenge. I preach what I need to hear...
LITTLE BOOK OF A BIG YEAR: Bono's A to Z of 2014