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Think on These Things

Weekend Fisher’s post from last night was a refreshing palate cleanser for my soul:

Finally, brothers, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there is anything of virtue/excellence, and if there is any worthy of praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

When I read this, I have often been shamefully dismissive of it. There is a cynical part of my mind which sees it as wishful thinking, or a sort of determined naivety. The more open-minded voice inside me recognizes and acknowledges the value — and then wants credit merely for speaking up against the cynicism, without actually doing what we are here encouraged to do.

She then goes on to reflect on some of these things in her life on which she is led to think. Below is my list, following her example:

  • What is true? Gravity.
  • What is honorable? Conversations held in confidence.
  • What is just? Saying “please” and “thank you” to folks in the service industries.
  • What is pure? A choir of children singing “Silent Night.”
  • What is lovely? An athlete who’s in the zone.
  • What has a good reputation? Hard work.
  • Is there anything of virtue? Mothers and fathers who sacrifice so their children can have a better life.
  • Is there anything praiseworthy? People who use their gifts in humility.

Fostering, and Formalizing, Friendship

Scot McKnight reviews Wesley Hill’s book Spiritual Friendship (Brazos, 2015). Vowed, formalized, celibate, same-sex friendship was a real thing in the Middle Ages. Hill sees it as something that needs to be recaptured.

The Amazon summary reads,

Friendship is a relationship like no other. Unlike the relationships we are born into, we choose our friends. It is also tenuous–we can end a friendship at any time. But should friendship be so free and unconstrained? Although our culture tends to pay more attention to romantic love, marriage, family, and other forms of community, friendship is a genuine love in its own right. This eloquent book reminds us that Scripture and tradition have a high view of friendship. Single Christians, particularly those who are gay and celibate, may find it is a form of love to which they are especially called.

Writing with deep empathy and with fidelity to historic Christian teaching, Wesley Hill retrieves a rich understanding of friendship as a spiritual vocation and explains how the church can foster friendship as a basic component of Christian discipleship. He helps us reimagine friendship as a robust form of love that is worthy of honor and attention in communities of faith. This book sets forth a positive calling for celibate gay Christians and suggests practical ways for all Christians to cultivate stronger friendships.

And McKnight closes his review with this quotation:

I find myself wondering which is the greater danger—the ever-present possibility of codependency, sexual transgression, emotional smothering (and other temptations that come with close friendship) or else the burden, not to mention the attendant temptations, of isolation and solitude created by the absence of human closeness ? A great company of saints witnesses to the fact that we can indeed flourish without romance, marriage, or children; I don’t know of one who witnesses to the possibility of our flourishing without love altogether (41).

Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

Wisdom from Chaplain Mike at InternetMonk:

[David] Manner is the Associate Executive Director for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before that he served in many congregations in worship and music ministry.

I like his list. A lot. I don’t agree with every point, and I don’t feel as strongly about some points as I do others. However, I think he’s captured a great deal of content in a nice, well-stated form that lends itself to discussion.

Here it is:

15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

1.     Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines.
2.     Eliminating choral expressions in worship.
3.     Worship leader ageism.
4.     Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.
5.     Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.
6.     Trying to recreate worship with each new generation.
7.     Ignoring the Christian Calendar and adopting the Hallmark Calendar.
8.     Worshiping like inspiration stopped with the hymnal.
9.     Worshiping like inspiration started with modern worship songs.
10.   Not providing a venue for creatives to express their art as worship.
11.   Allowing songs about God to supersede the Word of God.
12.   Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship.
13.   Setting aside traditionalism around the world but not across the aisle.
14.   Worshiping out of Nostalgia or Novelty.
15.   Worship services at the expense of worship service.

Chaplain Mike’s commentary that follows is well worth the read. It’s short, and it’s good.

Hengel: Hymns and Christology

Tim Henderson has now posted his summary of Martin Hengel’s essay, “Hymns and Christology.”

Banana Pudding Discipleship

Mike Ruffin is making me hungry.

Occasionally I am brought up short by the realization that some people have never had real banana pudding. If you are wondering what I’m talking about, you are one of those people.

My heart breaks for you.

On the True Meaning of Chanukkah

Nice reflection by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman:

There really are miracles.

Ask children, too young to look cynically at birthday candles, bubble baths and cushiony piles of autumn leaves; ask adults old enough to appreciate the gift of each unfailing sunrise and another day on earth. I’m not talking about the sun standing still or the Red Sea parting, or even the odd case of spontaneous remission from deathly illness that, admittedly, happens to some people (but not to others). The miracles I look for are not breaks in the natural order; they are simpler things, like human decency where we least expect it and the everyday moments that evoke deep breaths of gratitude just for the privilege of being.

Do read it all.

Just Not Being Fed

Ircel Harrison makes several points worth pondering:

How often have you heard someone say, “I’m just not being fed” as they left your church to join another?  I have always thought that such a statement was a bit humorous.  After observing my own children when they were young and receiving a refresher course in recent years with grandchildren, I have learned that youngsters learn to feed themselves pretty quickly.  In fact, there seems to be an inherent drive for them to learn to feed themselves.  This doesn’t always mean that they make wise choices, but they do want to ingest food. This leads me to some observations.

Witherington: Anti-Ecclesial Rhetoric

Ben Witherington has some food for thought regarding a particular trend in the so-called Emerging movement. He begins:

One of the things I have grown weary of in the last decade or so, is anti-ecclesial rhetoric. What I mean by this is the pitting of the ‘church’ over against Jesus, or ‘the established church’ over against more ‘organic’ models of Christianity (e.g. house churches, and the like). I suppose we all from time to time look for something or someone to blame our problems on, and the Christian church has become something of a punching bag, even for a goodly number of devout Christians. Sometimes this is because they have joined the ‘I’m spiritual, not religious’ movement, or the ‘I love Jesus, but the church…. not so much’ band wagon. Some of this frankly is caused by a profound misunderstanding of the word church/ ekklesia.

He concludes:

It is my hope that when the Emerging Church stops Emerging from wherever it has been previously hidden and starts merging with other groups of Christians who are willing to partner with them, that it will be realized that it was after all unprofitable and unhelpful to sass your Mother, to repudiate the womb from which you emerged, by which I mean the ekklesia, the body of Christ, the people of God, which will always need structures and organizations. Think on these things.

The stuff in between is well worth the read.

The Fruit of the Spirit Is Not…

Last night Jack Caldwell led a very stimulating Bible study on the question “Is Our Church Spiritual Enough?” His text was Galatians 5:22-23, which discusses the fruit of the Spirit. Jack provided a handout listing the various fruits along with a suggested opposite:

Love Hatred
Joy Gloom
Peace Strife
Patience Intolerance
Kindness Cruelty
Generosity Stinginess
Faithfulness Infidelity
Gentleness Roughness
Self-Control Indulgence

I commend Jack for leading an excellent, humorous, and thought-provoking discussion. Of course, I never know when to leave well enough alone.

While Jack asked us to think of examples where our church may have exhibited (or failed to exhibit) these godly characteristics, my mind raced over to the left-hand side of the handout. I wondered if spirituality, or the lack thereof, could really be captured on a continuum with two end points, one obviously preferable to the other. Is it not possible, I thought, to misconstrue what these positive qualities are all about and overshoot them completely? For example, might we think we’re being loving when in fact we have settled for being merely sentimental?

Rather than seeing each of these pairs as the ends of a continuum, I wondered if we might really be dealing with the three points of a triangle. The base would be made up of two “inauthentic” qualities. (For example, in my example from the previous paragraph, these would be “Sentimentality” and “Hatred.”) The truly godly attitude would be at the apex of the triangle—above them both, and often uncritically claimed by people who are actually situated nearer to the base.If so, then maybe I can slightly adjust Jack’s table to something like the following:

Sentimentality Love Hatred
Giddyness Joy Gloom
Impassibility Peace Strife
Enablement Patience Intolerance
No Personal Boundaries Kindness Cruelty
Indulgence (Others) Generosity Stinginess
Zealotry Faithfulness Infidelity
Passivity Gentleness Roughness
Asceticism Self-Control Indulgence (Self)

What do you think? Does this advance the conversation, or does it merely provide cover for people’s excuses when it comes to spiritual development?

On Strange Liturgical Bedfellows

David Koysis note a phenomenon that has also stumped me for some time:

The tendency for North American evangelicals to defend the fundamentals of the faith while largely abandoning the older liturgical traditions is something that not enough observers have managed to find puzzling. On the other hand, it is also true that the major part of evangelicalism in this continent, though affirming a vague orthodoxy, lacks both a robust ecclesiology and a strong confessional identity, with only a very few exceptions. Perhaps then it is not surprising that distinctive traditions of worship should long ago have been set aside as well.

Indeed, rather than leading them towards Rome, along with their mainline brethren, or towards the Reformation traditions, as one might expect, many evangelicals have instead subordinated worship, in utilitarian fashion, to the felt imperatives of church growth and reaching the so-called nonreligious. The result is worship that is not only deracinated but amounts merely to “one damn thing after another,” as one of my favourite liturgical scholars once put it.

So why is it that mainline protestants, who are scarcely less deracinated than their evangelical brethren, are increasingly reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed during worship?

Why, indeed?