I remember vividly the first time I went to a comic book shop with my mom. I'd sneaked there before. But this time was different. This time I'd come without pretense, openly confessing my love of the four-color art form. I was in the fifth grade.
While I perused the back issue bins in the middle of the shop, my mother looked from one rack to the next, her face slowly solidifying into a grimace. On one cover, a half-naked green man punched a half-naked rock man in the head. On another, a woman wearing spandex tight enough to be body paint draped herself over some sort of futuristic motorcycle. Eventually, my mother's eyes fell upon the cover of a sword-and-sorcery title near the cash register. Behind a tan, sinewy barbarian stood a harem of women, all wearing thin strips of well-placed linen. We left before I could make a purchase.
In recent days I've been thinking through with a friend one of the enduring challenges of pastoral and catechetical ministry: how to dispel the notion that worship should be entertaining. It's not as hard as it used to be -- there are books (and blogs) on the subject; it gets preached on fairly often these days. But it's not as easy as it ought to be. It seems we are a species ever in need of amusement.
One of the most compelling arguments against the persistent idea that worship ought to entertain, dazzle, distract, or otherwise charm us is found in James Alison's insight that true worship is "orchestrated detox."
It's been a fabulous few weeks for movies -- at theaters and at home. There are images in the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, that are so beautiful they can evoke an aching longing for transcendent experience. This is entirely the point, for the film is about the search for meaning in a God-breathed universe. A man goes to space to investigate a mystery, discovers himself in the face of his loved ones, and ends in an embrace with the divine -- love itself. It's an astonishing work of art that repays multiple viewings, and serves as nothing less than an icon for worship. This summer's The Tree of Life, the fifth film in 40 years from the Christian humanist artist Terrence Malick, becomes something similar, and in the process makes excellent cinematic use of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as avatars of contemporary masculinity. It's the most moving film I've seen this year.
It's Jesus walking on the water Sunday here at House for All Sinners and Saints, and we thought maybe during "Open Space" we should have a kiddie pool set up in the back so you could all "test your faith." You know -- go ahead and give it the old Christian try. That's how I've always heard this story preached: like it's the "Little Engine Who Could Have." As a matter of fact, here's a one-minute version of the sermon I just don't have the stomach to preach to you
In his seminal 1974 book Models of the Church, theologian Avery Dulles offered five paradigms, or "models," each of which called attention to certain aspects of the worldwide Christian church. The church, Dulles wrote, is in essence a mystery -- a reality of which we cannot speak directly. Thus we must draw on analogies to understand the church in deeper ways.
Dulles developed five models, drawing on a range of theological schools and traditions, both Protestant and Catholic, to illuminate different aspects of the church. His models included church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. Dulles was careful to point out that no single model, by itself, adequately paints a complete picture of the church; each contains important insights about the nature of the church.
I hate war. I do not hate it because people die. Death is inescapable. And believers believe that we will meet those we love again in heaven. I hate war with a perfect hatred because it causes suffering and robs the world of incalculable human possibilities. It pains the earth. It creates waste and the misallocation of resources.
Saturday, August 6, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. The New York Times called it: "the deadliest day for American forces in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan."
I admit it: A few years back, when I first heard about the E-Verify program, I thought it sounded reasonable. The program was described to me as a way for employers to voluntarily verify the U.S. citizenship of their employees by cross-checking their information with the online databases of the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security administration. I knew that there were flaws in the system, which sometimes misidentified workers as undocumented even when they were not. However, I thought, what employer doesn't deserve the right to check the employment eligibility of his or her workers?
Today, "Values and Capitalism," a project of the American Enterprise Institute, sponsored a full-page ad in Politico (see page 13) in response to the Circle of Protection. While it is encouraging to see another full-page ad urging our nation's legislators to be concerned about the poor, it is unfortunate that the critique of the Circle of Protection and Sojourners work is based on an error.
Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.
John Stott died this Wednesday. He was 90 years old. What many people don't understand is that he was the most influential 20th-century evangelical leader in the world, with the exception of Billy Graham. Stott became the Anglican rector of All Souls Church in downtown London at the age of 29 in 1950, and he stayed there for his entire ministry. But from his parish at Langham Place in the city's West End, and right across from BBC headquarters, John Stott spoke to the world with 50 books that sold 8 million copies. He also traveled the globe , speaking, teaching, convening, mentoring, and bird watching -- a personal passion.
Perhaps the most telling thing about this man is all the personal stories about "Uncle John" that the world is now hearing, from many Christian leaders around the world who were profoundly influenced, encouraged, and supported by John Stott. And secondly, how such a giant in the Christian world remained so humble, as testified to by those who knew him who say how "Christ-like" he was.
In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. There were broad attempts to blame the bombings on Islamic terrorism before all of the facts of the attack were out, and even after the attacker became known as Anders Behring Breivik, a self-proclaimed Christian extremist, the discussion focused on Breivik's statement that he was responding to the threat Muslims pose in Europe.
Where has all the sanity gone?
I, for one, never expected in my wildest dreams to pine for the days of Ronald Reagan. But I'm there.
And for everyone who is blaming "everyone" on this debt ceiling debacle, you're just dead wrong. The Democratically controlled House and Senate in the 80s did not hold President Reagan hostage when he had to raise the debt ceiling. And that is exactly what is happening. And the problem is that this is a train wreck that has been months in the coming. The only thing that we don't know is how bad the carnage will be.
We have come to an impasse in the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling because of several conceptual errors in our public discourse. These errors were most glaring in the remarks recently delivered by Speaker of the House John Boehner in his response to President Obama. The largest conceptual error is the idea that the government of a constitutional representative democracy is different from the people. Boehner said, "You know I've always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people."
What does this mean? The government is composed of the people, and if people are paying attention and voting according to their own interests, the government ought to work toward the happiness of the people. The problem is that too many Americans have bought into this conceptual error that the government is some kind of leviathan, a monster that exists to take away their liberties. This is nonsense. A correction of another conceptual error in Boehner's presentation makes my point.
My office has two overflowing bookshelves, with more books stacked on top and on the windowsill. But above my desk within easy reach is a small shelf. On it I keep those books I most regularly use in thinking and writing. Here are the top 10.
1. The Bible: What can I say about the foundational source of God's guidance in everything? I read or refer to it nearly every day. It was given to us "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
2. The Book of Common Prayer: I am not Anglican/Episcopalian, but there is something in the formal prayers of the traditional liturgy that resonate with my soul. On those days I really don't feel like praying or can't find the words, it's comforting to have a place to turn for inspiration.
Today is another intense day of politics at the White House. The debt default deadline is fast approaching. The stakes for the nation are high as politicians can't agree on how to resolve the ideological impasse on how to reduce the deficit before the nation defaults on its financial obligations.
Yesterday, before Congressional leaders were due at the White House for critical negotiations, I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were representing the Circle of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer, grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a budget by how they impact the most vulnerable.
The other day I read some interesting statistics about how social media is shaping our lives . It is interesting to see the response to this and recognize the different ways in which we grapple with deluge of social media in relation to our faith. There are lots of resources emerging to help us maintain a strong and vibrant faith in the midst of this. I wanted to highlight a couple that I have found very useful
The way you think and feel about the world is shaped by what you see when you get out of bed in the morning. I remember hearing this from civil rights activists. It simply means that perspective is hugely determined by place, context, and vantage point. This is profoundly true for me and most of the people I've ever met. You see the world from the place you live.
Part of the problem in the current budget impasse in Washington, D.C. is the perspectives of the politicians in the debate. Every morning they see and hear each other; the gladiator ring of national politics; the Washington media; their donors; their ideological base; and their latest poll ratings.
Seeking justice for the oppressed. Working to end the connection of child slavery to chocolate. Helping heal a devastated Haiti. Mobilizing young people to respond to a story of redemption by imaginatively working to build a better world. I think many of us Christians would hope that those words were describing the work of the body of Christ, intent on following the path of Jesus Christ in this world. In this case, they are actually descriptions of the Harry Potter Alliance. That's right -- the Harry Potter Alliance.
My favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings are the Ents -- an ancient race of giant living, talking, breathing trees in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional land, Middle Earth. I have a little confession to make: Whenever I hear a reading from Isaiah 55 where it says, "The mountains and hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands," I always picture the Giant Ents from The Lord of the Rings. And then I picture these clapping trees from Isaiah holding little Hobbits in their branch arms in what ends up a willful conflation of Middle Earth and Major Prophet.