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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.
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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).

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.

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?

Resisting the Gospels

Good stuff from Tim Gombis. Well, not good, but worth reading:

It goes beyond unintentionally cultivated habits.  I think that reading the Gospels for what they’re really saying threatens to upset and destabilize our church community dynamics that have become predictable and comfortable.  Contemporary Christians—evangelicals included—are too threatened by the Gospels to read them for what they’re actually saying.