Book Review: Water to Wine
Author: Brian Zahnd
Publisher: Spello Press ISBN: 9780692569184
This is the first book I’ve read by Brian Zahnd, although I’ve been a follower of his blog for quite some time now. I’ve enjoyed his writing and the theology he embraces, so when I heard him announce he had published a portion of his life’s story, I eagerly ordered the book to learn a bit more about him. I’m glad I did… This book has been one of the more affirming and encouraging books I’ve read in a long time. While it’s not my intent to pontificate about me in this review, I will say without reservation Water to Wine is also some of my story. Even more intriguing than Brian’s story being so uncanny in its similarity to my own, is that this same path traced by Brian Zahnd seems to be a common thread in the journey of so many Protestants.
This portion of Zahnd’s story begins with the desire to truly connect with the deep wisdom and mystery of the center of Christianity, the God-man, Jesus. Brian speaks of his ministry success and expresses his disenchantment with a “paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude.” He was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller… What follows is an epic and eye-opening exploration to the ancient paths of the Christian faith and the discovery of traditions of deep-wisdom forged by the original apostles and disciples of Christ and continued by the saints who have followed them through the ages. This is The stuff of true disciples of the Way of Jesus Christ.
Chapter by chapter, Zahnd interweaves some of his story with the history and experiences of those faithful followers through the ages who left the breadcrumbs of faith for us to follow. There is nothing that I do not absolutely love about this book, but there are several chapters that resonate so deeply within that I know it is the affirming nod of the Holy Spirit. One of these affirmations comes from chapters three, four, and five where Brian reflects on his reintroduction to the discipline of prayer…and perhaps even the redefining and rediscovery what prayer truly represents and can be. As I mentioned earlier, so much of what he “found” in this chapter was an echo of my own discovery with fixed-hour prayers, ancient prayer books, contemplative prayer, and more wrapped up in this richness of unity with the Godhead and with the fellowship and communion of the saints.
Another chapter that is among my favorites and maybe my very favorite is chapter seven, Grain and Grape. In this chapter, Brian shares a wonderful exploration and treatment of the Eucharistic celebration that is the Table of the Lord. I love the connection he makes with the Incarnation of the Lord and the sacrament of Communion, the Eucharist. He writes; “The more deeply we are influenced by the sacred mystery of the Incarnation—that God became human—the more seriously we will take the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.” What proceeds for the remainder of this chapter following those words is an exhilarating journey into the realm of sacred mystery and earthbound glory.
Zahnd concludes this portion of his testimony with a bit of an apologetic…not an apology. This is an explanation and invitation to “come and follow” on this incredibly rich ride that is the Christianity that has been born out of those early followers of Jesus. No, this is not a return to the old, but an honoring of the ancient as we stand on the shoulders of those who have faithfully journeyed before us. We walk side-by-side in the age we live, building on the traditions that have been time-honored methods of forming disciples of Jesus.
There is much more that I could detail about this book, but I have been deliberately vague in the specifics of what Brian shares. If you are the slightest bit intrigued, I strongly encourage you to buy the book. If you have felt that following Jesus and the promises of your faith have fallen short of what you have believed it should be, buy the book. You might find a door opening that will set the course for the greatest adventure of your life…and ultimately be the faith that you have always believed was calling to you all along.
1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015
It begins; a new Church calendar year has started today. I have grown quite fond of this time through the years. It signifies many things to me: hope, newness and fresh starts, putting to rest hurts and failed expectations are a few of the more prominent things that are on my mind on this First Sunday of Advent in the year 2015.
This time of year brings to the front of my memory a couple of the most significant heartbreaking moments in my life when I lost my sister in a tragic automobile accident in 1992 and two years later in 1994, almost to the same date, I lost my grandfather also to tragic automobile accident. While the years have been merciful in healing the raw pain of those losses, the felt absence of these beautiful and dear souls in my life has never been healed. It is for this reason there is always a sense of somberness mixed with hopeful and hope-filled expectations infusing my soul as I begin again the retelling of the Gospel—the salvation of humanity in the coming of God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
This morning, while sharing with a group, reading from Scripture (Lectionary text Psalm 25:1-5), I was captured by several words from the text; the words trust, truth, and hope were ringing like a clanging gong in my soul. As I sat reflecting and holding those words in silence, I listened for what the Spirit might bring to my memory about them… the thought of “confidence and security” seemed to emerge from the triad of trust, truth, and hope. I read through the text again.
This time as I read the text, additional details and clarity of understanding came into view. Considering my own somber memories mentioned earlier, and reflecting on the state of current events, both domestically and abroad, I was struck with a sense of dread and a feeling of helplessness in a world engulfed in chaos. Only a fool will deny the craziness that surrounds us. It seems no place is truly safe. Violence abounds at every compass direction, racial unrest seems as volatile as it has ever been in my lifetime—maybe in the history of this country, social inequality continues to divide our nation between the haves and the have-nots…and this, arguably, in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Globally, there are wars and rumors of wars; terroristic acts and crimes against humanity continue to reveal themselves in each pressing of the daily news. Chaos, fear, dread, despair, and hopelessness are the main entrees of earth’s buffet in year 2015. Still, the words “confidence” and “security” were the words coming to my mind as I read through this Psalm 25:1-5 text. So, I read the passage again.
1 O Lord, I give my life to you.
2 I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.
4 Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you. (Psalm 25:1-5 NLT)
I continued with silent reflection, pondering these words amidst the other thoughts that were populating my mind. I considered the many temptations throughout any given day to allow myself to become consumed by the depressing state of the world I live in. I thought about all the hate-filled rhetoric that dominates the airwaves of the news media and the devices of social media. I was reminded how easy it is to forget that still, even in the midst of chaos and darkness, my salvation and my hope are in God alone. The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit is my Agent of trust. Christ Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, is Truth incarnate. This is my Hope and my Rescue from a world in chaos.
I feel that the Spirit of God was reminding me that darkness and chaos are real. The pains of my losses are real. The possibility of becoming consumed, overwhelmed, and ultimately defeated by the distractions and destruction of evil amongst us today is equally real. On the other hand, salvation and truth are real…a right path that leads out of the darkness and into the Light of Hope and the Presence of God is even more real than the threats of chaos and darkness. This is what Advent calls us to remember. Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again.
In the coming days, I will be told by forces distracting my world that I need to consume. I will be told my life is not satisfying or gratifying or fulfilling for a myriad of reasons. I will be told I should be afraid…I need to retreat, hide, defend, attack, hoard, and protect. I will be pushed and taunted, pulled and cajoled to enter into a race I cannot win, where even the leaders who run out front are still losers in the end.
The Spirit of God bids me, “Slow down and do not be afraid.” We are reminded in the Advent that the blessing of hope for which we wait is coming. God is reconciling all creation to himself. He speaks to chaos and tells it to come to order. It will happen and this is a truth that can be trusted. This is our hope: Christ is our Hope. I will reject the temptations to join in with fruitless fray of a world gone mad. I have been invited to travel a different path, a right path, a road to follow that delivers me to my God who saves me—he is Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.
The theme of Advent is waiting, waiting for God, waiting with sometimes rising impatience, deepening frustration, and frequent disappointment. We wait, we hope, we look. And in that attitude and perspective one finds the whole liturgical year’s forward drive and direction. “Small wonder then that at this time, the beginning of the Preparation, the Message of Announcement is so completely illuminating and wide-reaching. It signalizes no individual event; it marks no one day or hour; it describes no single trait or act; but centralizes in its words the Whole Story and carries it home to the waiting heart.”
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). The Church begins the year by looking forward to the birth of her Beloved, the Word made flesh. As an anxious bride, she counts the days, preparing, longing, constantly anticipating the joy that will be hers when the time will be fulfilled and Emmanuel will indeed be God-with-us. But the Church gives voice not only to the expectant joy of a bride or of a mother at the impending birth of her child. Mother Church expresses her deep longing for the coming of Christ in glory at the end of the ages. It is not a fearful dread that the Church wishes to instill in her members when through the psalms and hymns and readings and prayers she calls on us to think about the Parousia, the final coming, but rather she points us to the goal of our efforts to keep awake and to watch: unending union with Jesus Christ. All our work and study and prayer and living has one purpose and meaning: to bring us and all humanity into the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So the central prayer of Advent is the one word, the concluding prayer of the Bible, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus. (From Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year by Philip H. Pfatteicher)
Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God
Author: Thomas Jay Oord
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830840847
I like Tom Oord. I like that he is a thinker. I like that even when he postulates an idea, he’s not always resolute in its absoluteness. He seems to always be exploring, processing, and attempting to understand. I remember the first time I was exposed to the “open view” of God, sometime around twelve or thirteen years ago, and I immediately rejected the idea as something that could ever be considered within the paradigm of my theology. I could not escape the gnaw of this open view though, and when it appeared on my radar again around eight years ago, I started to do some investigation and deeper reading. Tom Oord and others have been instrumental in the continuing evolution of my thought, perception, and growing relationship with God through their writing and lectures on a more open and expansive understanding of God’s relationship and His engagement in the lives of men and women. While I’m not an open theist, I know for certain my understanding of God and relationship I live with Him is far more healthier now than it has ever been in my life, in large part because of my willingness to engage this dynamic of the uncontrolling love of God. I share this preface for those who may be highly resistant to ideas previously foreign to your thinking about God. I was that guy. I am no longer that guy. This is a worthy book to read.
Oord begins this work with questions regarding the goodness of God and the tragic events that can call that goodness into question; these are the “why questions” and the reasoning behind the chapter title Tragedy Needs Explanation.
The case for God’s uncontrolling love builds with chapter two as Oord further develops his thesis, drawing distinctions between God’s sovereign control over every detail of existence and the possibility of randomness as a factor in the circumstances and happenings of life. It will be necessary for each reader to draw their own conclusion, but one thing I particularly enjoyed from this chapter was the brilliant synthesis of philosophy, science-physics, and theology. I think, in general terms, we are often want to speak and quantify our beliefs in binary terms… If I am reading Oord’s ideas correctly in this section, he promotes a mixed view of causation and randomness in all the events and circumstances of life, he concludes this chapter with these words; “Both randomness and regularity persist in the universe.” I have likely way oversimplified his wonderful presentation, but this is my simple review and my very, very brief synopsis.
The elements of free will and determination are explored in chapter three, which was a very insightful and interesting read. There are far too many excellent points in this chapter to do justice in this short review, but I can share a teaser with the following quote:
The two words, free and will, capture what most people mean when they talk about the freedom to choose in any particular moment. But philosophers use various terms to talk about free will. The philosophical label libertarian free will describes what I believe is the most plausible view of freedom. Libertarian free will says genuine freedom is irreconcilable with being fully determined to act in a particular way. Libertarian-free-will supporters are incompatiblists because they believe we cannot be simultaneously free and entirely determined by other forces. In other words, free will and complete determinism are incompatible. We choose among alternatives, and other agents and factors do not completely control us. (p. 59)
I think, one of the big takeaways for me from this chapter, is the affirmation of my own conclusion regarding my conversion from Calvinism (many years ago). In my opinion, as echoed in the above quote, theistic determinism is incompatible with free will. Now, granted this statement leaves much unanswered, but those unanswered questions are much of what Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explores (and a great reason to purchase and read it).
As I have alluded previously, I appreciate the approach of Oord to not bifurcate the discussion of theodicy with “either/or” statements about God and instead embrace more of a “both/and” approach to understanding this complex conversation. Again, this is my interpretation and I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the nature and discussion in this book. You’ll need to read it and judge for yourself. A great case for my observation can be found in the presentation of Models of God’s Providence (beginning pg. 83, chapter four). Once more, in my opinion, this might be one of the more important chapters in the book. I think it can serve for some very deep and healthy discussion (albeit possibly fired with much passion), and would be an excellent reason for introducing this book in a study group. The ways we think about God and His actions among us have serious repercussions and ramifications. A conversation concerning the models of God’s providence is a great introduction to explore ways we think about God.
Tom Oord has written and lectured extensively on the open and relational view of God. It is in chapter five that he begins to fully engage this position deeply with relation to tragedy, free will, determination, and love within the scope of the God and humanity relationship. For the sake of ease and the benefit of my friends who will read this review and likely be unfamiliar with the open view of God, I will include Oord’s major defining points for this position. He writes in the opening statements of chapter five.
Open and relational theology embraces the reality of randomness and regularity, freedom and necessity, good and evil. It asserts that God exists and that God acts objectively and responsively in the world. This theology usually embraces at least these three ideas:
- God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
- The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
- Love is God’s chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.
Advocates of open and relational theology may describe their views a little differently from the way I have here. Some add other beliefs. Among the open and relational theology books of importance and in addition to those cited, but most advocates embrace at least these three statements. (pg. 107)
Please note as quoted above that Oord describes this as his defining points of the Open and Relational View of God, while others will add other defining points to the position.
While this chapter represents a big-picture view of the open and relational dynamic of God, it is not just a high-level fly by. There is much depth to the presentation and Oord has done a remarkable job of annotating sources from a diverse group of thinkers and theologians. Additionally, with such depth of thinking, one can often get lost in the academic structure of the discussion; this is not so with Oord’s presentation. He has also performed admirably to bring the conversation to an every-day-man level of understanding. I believe this chapter could easily be a standalone work expressing this particular view of God.
Chapter six is a chapter I will have to return to and read more closely. I admit that it is a portion of the book that I skimmed more than I digested, unlike the slower more deliberate approach I took with previous chapters. In it, Oord dialogues quite extensively with John Sanford’s work in his book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Oord expresses the importance of this chapter as a preface to his summary conclusion.
Similar to my statements from chapter six, I extend my thoughts to the concluding chapters of seven and eight where Oord offers the brunt of reason behind his position and his concluding statements. It is with complete transparency that I offer my inconclusiveness. The jury is still out for me with regard to theodicy and the working of God within the parameters of His sovereignty and humanity’s unrestricted free will. I admit I don’t understand all the myriad ways of God’s working within the scope of humanity and free will. At this juncture, I’m willing to live in the divine tension of God’s mystery. I say this while fully engaged in asking questions of God and pondering with deepest contemplation (love) all the knowledge that God will impart regarding these deep and soulful questions about our existence and the ways of life in the midst of brokenness and people still separated from God by the distorted image of God within them. Even while I make these admissions about myself, there are several points that Oord makes in his Kenosis chapter (seven) that put me on edge…and for the very reasons that he gives his voice under his subheading Essential Kenosis and Evil, also found in chapter seven. I have learned that this type of discomfort I describe is when I need to pay attention very closely; I need to proceed slowly and allow God the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. That is not to say that I will eventually be swayed to another view, but that I will remain objective in my search for truth and be wary of my personal biases as well as positions anchored in personal conviction. I think I’ll end my review on that note.
This is an excellent and very thought-worthy book. I think it will make a fabulous group study. In my opinion, there’s no way a person can read The Uncontrolling Love of God and not find subjects worthy of engagement. There’s a lot here and some deep thinking, but not too difficult to approach even for high school students. I think it also serves as a compilation and expository summary of many of Oord’s earlier works, which can be helpful if you’ve read much of his writing or if you’ve read none. The book is well annotated with extensive footnotes. I’m reading a proof copy, so I’m not sure if this is the final version of the book or not. I do not know if there will be additional appendices or if there will be a bibliography included, but in either event, this is a very worthy read. Thanks Tom for stretching my theology and giving me pause to evaluate my positions.
The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is scheduled for release Dec. 06, 2015
Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus
Author: Duane A. Garrett
Publisher: Kregel ISBN: 9780825425516
A Commentary on Exodus
The commentaries published by the Kregel Exegetical Library continue to impress me. The Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett is another strong volume in the Old Testament Series.
One of the many things that I particularly like about this series is there are no compromises where scholastic excellence is involved. The volumes in this commentary series are the pinnacle of academic excellence in my opinion. This can be an intimidating attribute for some, but I would say there is no reason for intimidation. In addition to academic excellence, the commentary is among the most readable that I have experienced. I am not a language or textual criticism expert and I still find the writing conversational and understandable. The marriage of readability and scholasticism is what moves me to rank this series so highly.
Duane Garrett has done an exceptional job with research and exposition of the Exodus narrative. Beginning with an incredibly comprehensive introduction addressing geography, archeology, Egyptian dynasties, socio-political circumstance, textual criticism and so much more, Garrett lays a solid foundation from which he works the major themes in his Commentary on Exodus.
No matter what commentary or commentaries you may have in your library for this key book from the Old Testament Scriptures, Kregel’s Commentary on Exodus by Duane Garrett is a worthy addition and compliment to your collection.
Book Review: Enemies of the Heart
Author: Andy Stanley
Publisher: Multnomah ISBN: 9781601421456
I have appreciated the communication skills of Andy Stanley for years. Personally, I think he is one of the great communicators and teachers of our day. I have often marveled at his ability to repackage timeless teaching and contemporize it for the present audience. Enemies of the Heart is another sterling example of this gift that Stanley has.
While Enemies of the heart touts “Four Emotions That Control You,” the primary teachings that it draws from seems to come from Evagrius’ and Pope Gregory’s teaching on the Eight/Seven deadly sins. Stanley addresses four major challenges to the Christian life (five if you count lust from the final chapters in part four), guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy. The original “Deadly Sins” codified by Evagrius and Gregory the Great follows: Lust, Gluttony or waste and over indulgence, Avarice or Greed, Sloth or Apathy, Wrath or Anger, Envy or Jealousy, and Pride or vanity and narcissism. The teachings of the ancient fathers of the church stated that “guilt” was the result of culpability to these major sins. I think you can see the parallel of Stanley’s premise from Enemies of the Heart and this ancient treatise on the sins of man.
In part three, Stanley addresses the sins by offering counter disciplines and attitudes to change the behavior of the persons plagued by guilt, anger, greed, jealousy, …and lust. This is not unlike the disciplines introduced by the church fathers to similarly deal with the issues of these core sins. They offered the following pursuits to eradicate the deadly sins: chastity to overcome lust, moderation to control gluttony, charity to counter greed, diligence to abate sloth, patience to smother anger, kindness to temper envy, and humility to sate pride.
I am thankful for people like Andy Stanley who can repackage classic teaching and help to expand the audience of such. This is a great introduction to the issues of sin and classic spiritual formation. Those who would like to delve deeper might consider the writings of the Philokalia.
It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
Book Review: Accidental Saints
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publisher: Convergent Books ISBN: 9781601427557
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
This was the first book I’ve read from Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve watched a few of her talks on the internet over the years, but I had not gotten around to reading her book Pastrix before I had this book, Accidental Saints, offered for my review. I mention this for the point that I had limited personal knowledge to her message and communication style, although I was familiar with internet chatter about her.
It is easy to form opinions from the banter of others and while I try to stay objective in my perceptions about “stuff” and other people, I am influenced by the circles in which I travel. I freely admit that I am a bit more conservative with my interpretation and expression of the Christian faith; consequently, I was a bit cautious of the progressive posture held by Nadia Bolz-Weber when I started Accidental Saints. While I was not surprised by what I read, I was surprised by how much I agreed with and how much I was ministered to by Nadia’s experiences and sharing.
Nadia’s writing style is very open. She’s transparent and bluntly honest or so it seems. If profanity offends you, then this might not be on your summer reading list. The language can be a bit salty at times, but that is also “real world” and the stories in Accidental Saints are real… as are our own emotions, thoughts, responses, and reactions. Similarly, I don’t hold the same theological positions as Bolz-Weber on several doctrinal issues, but then…I can say that about my own denomination as well. Regardless of whether I hold the same theological positions, I was blessed repeatedly by the accounts shared and the spiritual insights gleaned through them.
I received an Advanced Reading Copy for my examination, so I’m not entirely sure the final printing will be in the same format, but I’ll share what I read nonetheless. The book seems to loosely follow a year-in-the-life of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, the church pastored by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Chapter one begins with All Saints Day on the Liturgical Calendar (Nov. 1) and flows pretty much through the high points of the Christian Calendar to the following year All Saints Day. Personal anecdotes walk the reader through the church year and spiritual insights gleaned through the lives of Bolz-Weber and many of the congregants that share community in House for all Sinners and Saints.
The ARC ends with a couple appendices that include discussion questions for group readings and a Q&A with the author, Bolz-Weber.
My overall impressions are very favorable and I’m inclined to get my hands on a copy of Pastrix, as there are several allusions to the book, which incite my curiosity. Profanity does not freak me out, so that didn’t affect my view of what I was reading, but it is something to be aware of in case you are bothered by it. I am also glad I entered into the reading with relative objectivity, because there are some great stories and beautiful spiritual insights to be gleaned here. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read and review the book; I don’t think it would be appreciated by everyone in my circle of influence, but I will recommend it where I think it appropriate. Final ranking 4 of 5 stars.
My Daily Bread: Scripture Meditations
The following is an extended meditation that began with my practice of engaging God’s Word through lectio divina (divine reading). The process follows a few basic steps: (1) quiet, slow, and attentive reading of a short passage of Scripture (2) “listening” in a meditative posture for God’s Word to be “spoken” – a word, phrase or other mental image coming from the selected text (3) focus on the highlighted word or image, praying God will provide clarity on His Word to me/you (4) prayerfully responding to God with gratitude and surrendered obedience to follow His guidance through the Word given for the day. This is the most basic approach in this style of reading, although there are a number of variations. I’ve found this engagement with God’s Word one of the most rich and personally meaningful ways of reading Scripture. Additionally, I enjoy reading in this style with small groups and have found it to be one of the more spiritually insightful ways of listening to God in the current spiritual exercises and devotion that I practice.
5 “Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy.6 Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ 7 For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? 8 And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?
9 “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:5-9 New Living Translation (NLT)
Concerning the decrees and regulations of God:
- Obey them completely
- They display wisdom and intelligence
- They are righteous and fair
- We are to pass them on to each generation (children and grandchildren)
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
It is my desire to make all of the precepts of God my centerpiece of life—they will keep Him at my center and me at His center. The precepts of God are full of wisdom and intelligence…righteous and fair. It seems then, only a fool and a selfish cheat would seek to avoid God and His decrees. They are intended for the flourishing of all humanity.
Without a focus and intentional connection with God through the Holy Spirit, it is easy for our attentions to stray and easy to forget our commitment to His decrees and regulations. We are prone to seek our own precepts and path…, which often lead in dangerous directions away from “flourishing.”
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget!”
W I S E • P R U D E N T • R I G H T E O U S • F A I R
“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”
The person who follows the commands and decrees of God exhibits wisdom and intelligence.
“Obey them completely…”
The command to “obey them completely” implies that I must know them well and they have been taught to me “just as the LORD commanded” or as God intended them to be lived out. This further infers that individual interpretations of God’s commandments may not be the essence of obeying them completely. Discernment empowered through the Holy Spirit and the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit-filled people is a necessary component to help insure successful following of God’s decrees. Wisdom dictates that my care is needed in interpretation so I do not infer or impose my own desires or culturally nurtured thinking into God’s commands. I am reminded that I can ask God for wisdom and He will guide me into truth using His Word (Scripture), His People (Tradition), God-centered thinking (Reason), and my own experience in the process of interpretation.
Awake, O Sleeper © 05/25/2015
I am in one of two states,
God is speaking. Always.
His presence is evident;
His Voice is evident;
In all things—In all places,
If I fail to hear, If I fail to see,
I am asleep.
I want to have eyes that see
And ears that hear;
“Pay attention to how you listen…”
Am I awake?
Am I asleep?
I am awake,
Because I AM is awake within me.
For me, there is no silence;
For me, there is no blindness,
As either pertain to the Divine.
In the silence is God;
The Silence is not quiet;
The Silence is not lonely;
The Silence is nothing to fear.
In the silence is God.
This space is un-silence;
This Space is Mystery;
This Space is Divine.
The un-silence is peaceful;
The un-silence brings comfort;
The un-silent silence of God is never
Noisy, distracting, or confusing.
The un-silent silence is respite
And refuge; It is the place of God.
“Pay attention to how you hear…”
I listen; I hear.
I watch; I see.
I AM is here.
I am not asleep;
This sleeper has awakened.
I see the Divine; I see God.
I hear the Divine; I hear God.
I AM – in me;
I am – in Him.
…paying attention to how I listen and hear.
And the Perfect Double Play: a Pre-Pentecost Reflection
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my continuing maturity in the image and likeness of Christ over the past several months. A number of habits (both good and bad) have prompted these reflections and my overall sense has been that of dis-ease. A quick disclaimer is likely helpful, before I proceed with my thoughts. I am in a fruitful season of my Christian journey. There is much to celebrate and be thankful for. My gifts and experiences are being used in profitable, gratifying, and meaningful ways. Still, I am unsatisfied and unsettled. I don’t view this as a bad thing; it is uncomfortable, but not bad.
Discipline is an expression that for me, conjures quite a few word pictures and memories. On the one side, are many memories of corrective action being meted out in response and consequence to some of my poor choices. Conversely, I am reminded of times where discipline translated into practices experienced in the context of sports and military exercises.
The Testing Discipline of God
The past few days I’ve been actively reflecting on a passage of Scripture that has prompted this writing (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. 6 So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
At first glance, there is much here that causes me unrest. For instance, I want the favor of God. I want to flourish, living in the land of promise under God’s sworn faithfulness. I am not always so eager to consider whole-hearted faithfulness and obedience to all the commands of God as my prerequisite to life in the land of favor and abundance. Yes, I want favor, but I want it on my terms and not on the terms of God. I would like favor and promise, but I would also like to negotiate the degree of obedience I must be willing to give up in order to have it. Why can’t my entry to the land of favor and promise be contingent on my desire and best efforts (determined by me)? Shouldn’t I get credit for obedience simply on the basis of “I tried” or “I want to obey”?
Likewise, I do not like the idea that my life might be a continuous trial by fire to test and purify my character. “Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Forty years of testing??? Are you kidding me???!! Why must every day be a test to prove my obedience; didn’t yesterday (assuming I was obedient yesterday) count for something? Oh…what’s that you’re saying, Lord? “My character doesn’t need proving to You, the tests are for my benefit to prove and reveal my character flaws to me.” Ouch.
Discipline and Repetition
I remember a class assignment from elementary school I used to despise. I would even go to extreme efforts to devise ways to circumnavigate the assignment or cheat my way through it. The efforts I would engage in would often be more work than the assignment itself; I suppose this confession reveals a something of my nature and character. The exercise was writing spelling words…over, and over, and over again. I hated it. It seemed pointless and physically painful to me that I would have to spell out words ten or more times a piece, especially when I could prove to spell them correctly after one or two attempts. It was worse that this exercise was sometimes administered in the context of correction or punishment for minor infractions of misbehavior. I might be told to stay in from recess for talking out of turn and made to write out my spelling words while the other kids played. Discipline. Repetition. Correction. Behavior modification…
Discipline can be found and practiced in and with acts of repetition. It (discipline) is often and possibly only learned through those repeated practices. Although I rebelled against most acts of repetition during my youthful years, I have learned the value of repetitive acts especially where they are related to behavioral changes, and specifically in the area of spiritual formation. For instance, the repetition of writing out my spelling words in elementary school is not wholly unlike the repeated and disciplined acts of faith I practice now that leads to a godly life. I have learned and I continue to learn that the body and the mind are both strengthened through “healthy” acts of repetition.
Echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters five and twelve) are central themes to the disciplined life. There is even the mention that Jesus, in obedience learned through suffering, was made perfect through his discipline. How much more then, do we need to learn discipline and obedience. Likewise, as Christ, our perfection comes through discipline, testing, purging, pruning, and repetition leading to our consummate maturity where we will lack nothing reflecting the nature and character of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16, Eph. 5:1, James 1:2-4, 12). Anything less than perfected maturity in the life of the Christ-follower is not an option. Discipleship is discipline to the perfected image of Christ in me and in you.
I get by with a little help from my friends…
It needs saying that I’m not promoting a canon of self-works. I cannot make myself perfect no matter how disciplined or how hard I might try…at least not perfect as it relates to the image and nature of Christ. The discipline and spiritual exercises I refer to assume the empowerment and partnership of God, the Holy Spirit, in every life of the practicing believer. It is impossible to produce Christ-like behavior on our own, but God has given us all we need to live a godly life even sharing with us His glory and the Divine nature (Romans 8:30, John 17:22, 2 Peter 1:3-4), and with His help and partnership we are able to pursue and live a Christ-perfected life. This is Good News. We are God’s dance partner, waltzing the perichoretic two-step in time with the Triune perfection of our God to the to the tune of perfected obedience and melody of Christian maturity.
As I pondered these things, another memory was wrestled from my past. I used to play baseball at a fairly competitive level. I cannot begin to count the hours of practice that we used to joyfully endure. I think, literally, hundreds, maybe thousands of ground balls and fly balls fielded and played out. One of the main plays we would practice from a defensive posture was the double-play. Ground ball after ground ball was fielded and fumbled for the sake of preparing for the eventuality of making the double-play out in a real game. It is impossible to know when the situation might occur or where the variables might line up for your team to make the double-play. You must be ready for every possible outcome. Practice, practice, practice and repetition helped to create a deep muscle memory of how to field the ball, determine the play, and make the following throws and catches that would ensure the success of the double-play. It was rare for anyone to witness the countless fumbles and foibles committed in practice and connect those trials and errors with the beautiful dance of completion and perfection that would happen on game night.
And we come back to where we began… This is the desert experience I think we might understand from the Deuteronomy Eight passage. It’s repetition. It’s testing. It’s faithfully showing up and trusting the outcome to participating with the persons of the Godhead. It’s all there. It’s not always fun. Discipline requires work and sacrifice, but there is a harvest of benefit and glory. Sometimes you jam a finger…sometimes a hard grounder to the chin, but those always seem worth it when you turn the perfect double-play with Jesus as your teammate.
This is something I think might be helpful for me to remember… Discipline often is, but should not always be associated with punitive correction. I think the better understanding of discipline could be associated with proactive conditioning, the kind that leads to healthy behavior and habits producing a fruitful and abundant lifestyle, the kind of life that Jesus came to offer us. Healthy spiritual practices + repetition = Abundant Life.