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by his resurrection from the dead... Rom 1:4
A Carcass in the World

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A Carcass in the World

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Toward the end of last year, I took the long hard dive into reading Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch. As I read through this novel, I was drawn into her language around paintings and art. It gave me a desire to connect to paintings despite the fact that I have no real knowledge of the art world. But on a trip to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon I pressed myself to find the art section and explore it in hopes of finding at least one book. As I wandered lost among the shelves of books of fine art I remembered an artist that I wrote a crummy paper on in seminary. I wasn’t sure where I had come across his art before but when I had seen some of his simple images, they ripped open a whole new place inside of me. They are, as one friend put it, haunting. Knowing his last name began with a ‘Rou’, I gave up exploring the whole art section and settled on finding his book.

The artist’s name is Georges Rouault. He was born in France in 1871 and passed away in 1958. One of the things that drew me to Rouault as an artist is the intertwining of life with his art. He once wrote, “My life and my art make a single whole”. Rouault was raised in a poor family, but more than that he was someone who saw the horrors of both World Wars as well as the Franco-Prussian war. His family was poor and destitute in many ways and it was the prompting of his grandfather that encouraged him to become an artist. I haven’t researched much of Rouault’s early life, but as he grew up he at times referred to his body as a “carcass”.

Read more at my friend, D.L. Mayfield's blog.

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Sorrow inseparable from joy..

“And I'm hoping there's some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it - although I've come to realize that the only truths that matter to me are the ones I don't, and can't, understand.
What's mysterious, ambiguous, inexplicable. What doesn't fit into a story, what doesn't have a story. Glint of brightness on a barely-there chain. Patch of sunlight on a yellow wall. The loneliness that separates every living creature from every other living creature. Sorrow inseparable from joy.”
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Was revisiting some of my notes today from this amazing novel I read last year and was struck by this one all over again.

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Go on,

Transient

I don’t have a bone in my body that understands certain parts of evangelicalism. I deeply appreciate many things that I have learned from evangelicals and the witness they have been in my life, but at times I feel lost. It seems often times when confronted with certain evangelicals I’m being challenged to admit something is a problem so then we can agree with the evangelical answer to the problem. The greatest example of this is, of course, the debate of creationism and evolution. But another example is something I picked up from growing up in a mainline congregation and its understanding of sin.

Often I tell people I was raised in a church that taught me to take sin seriously by not taking it that seriously. That is, if sin is really a striving after nothingness, the lack of anything creative, and something that is completely overcome who in Jesus is, we have the ability to take it seriously by not taking it that seriously. Obviously, this can have problems, but looking at the alternative narrative in churches that take sin to a level of seriousness it begins to be seen dualistically.

What got me thinking about this was a quote posted at After Existentialism, Light.  This quote comes a book of discussions with the great theologian Karl Barth. Here he is being asked if his theology lack any room for victory because he doesn’t take the opponents of God (sin and Satan) seriously enough.  In his response he says this:

But because there must be room for the victory of Christ, you cannot be so anxious and pitiful and sad. Go on, explain the Work and Word of Christ, and you are above! We cannot deny the reality of evil and the Nothingness, but in and with Christ we are above these mysteries. It is not wise to be too serious. We must be serious, of course; life is hard. But we are not to take Satan as a reality in the same sense that Jesus is real.

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Past Year

This past year I didn't write here much, or at all. However, during that time I've had the chance to my writing to appear in a couple other places. Having my writing helped, shared, and worked over by others has been a real blessing. Here is a collection of links for some of the essays from the past year and I'll try to keep more active on this page over the next year as well as continuing to share my writing elsewhere.

In January I offered a look at Darwin Barney's 2012 errorless streak with the Cubs along side the book, The Are of Fielding that appeared in the Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual. 

In the spring Jen Wise offered me the chance to write Home and Exile for her website Restoration Living.

In the fall of 2012 I started editing a section at The Other Journal. This was deeply rewarding this past year and it gave me the chance to review Baseball as Road to God by John Sexton. This essay most likely contains my personal philosophy on being a baseball fan.

And finally, the gracious editors at Fare Forward gave me venue for exploring my thoughts on Kanye West's recent tour.

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Practice.

Do you ever find yourself looking for the ‘high,’ the next motivational piece, spiritual experience, athletic technique, gardening tip, automotive gear, nature experience, or cellphone case?

This week the Lebanon School District had their annual group meeting and it’s one of the only chances Superintendent Rob Hess has to talk to all the school district employees at once. Rob had invited me the last two years to come listen to him but I had been unable to make it. This year he invited all the pastors and I happened to be free. Over dinner the night before Kelli told me how it is the big pep talk for the year and leans heavy into motivational territory. In response I remarked that Dr. Hess should really listen to all the interviews football players give about the big, high energy, speech a coach gives before the game. In most of those interviews the players say that the speeches are a lot of fun but that the high normally wears off by the end of the opening kick-off. While I merely said that to make a point, Kelli asked, “So what do they do after that?” It’s a good a question and thinking back to all those NFL Films I realized I knew the answer, “Practice.”

Practice is one of those things that seems so stale and dry. Most of us don’t get that excited about the idea of practice. Sure we’d sign up for the next big thing, the thing that will bring us to a high, to a peak, but the long slow work of practice isn’t really what we want.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well and it’s a temptation I face as a pastor to both provide and seek for myself. But as we all know, the high wears off, and we go back to daily life. But what if we reverse the trend? What if take the time to learn our scales by reading the bible, praying, fasting, and seeking connection with other and Jesus. What if we bring ourselves daily to the things that slowly shape us and make it possible for us to still have the highs, but that see daily life, the going to work, the taking care of the kids, the regular Sunday, and the regular rituals of life, as where things really happen? It’s a challenge to get out of the motivational mindset, and it certainly is needed at times, but if we open ourselves up to the practices and the disciplines that can shape us daily, we give God more opportunity to enter into our days. And it is in our daily life that is the place where God is going to come up to us, to call us to die to ourselves, and follow him.

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Give Up

The point of this volume is simple enough: to live is to give up and give away parts of ourselves. This is not just a comment about the social character of our lives. Giving up parts of ourselves fuels our very being as persons: it is how we learn, it is how we think, it is how we grow, it is how we make decisions, it is how we love. In giving up, of course, we are also gaining something new, although that is not entirely obvious, just as it s not always clear what we are losing as we live, at least not until the very end of this or that process. To live is to give up parts of ourselves, and to live fully is to give ourselves away fully. This is the simple Christian corollary of the fundamental character of human living, and it is not a novel claim in the least: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.                                                  Ephraim Radner, A Brutal Unity, p. 1

Patheos was nice enough to give my a copy of A Brutal Unity as long as I wrote a short blog post about it (see previous post). Since I am always game for free books I liked the idea but the real reason is that I find Radner's writing to be a challenge for me in the places I live. For instance, the quote above from the opening paragraph is one I haven't be able to stop think about since I read it. It is a simple quote but its one that cuts to the heart. It gets me asking about what it means to give up, and the knowledge that is how we live, we learn, and most importantly, love. The idea that giving away of ourselves is fundamental to our living is a difficult truth but one that me must live with. It pushes me into prayer.  Prayer being the place where we can learn the ability to what it means to give oneself away, and also to know where we can find ourselves again.

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A Brutal Unity

 “In this life that is God’s, any Anglican—or Roman Catholic or Methodist or Lutheran—can be a Pentecostal; any Catholic Protestant can be an evangelical Protestant; any member of one church can be a member of another that from the first; any Roman Catholic can be a Protestant. Any Christian can do this not because standards of truth have been cast away but because the standards can be suffered, in their very contradiction by the place where he or she will go with Jesus.” (p. 447)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of being ordained into the pastorate by my denomination, Mennonite Church USA. One of the questions for ordination has to do with upholding the Confession and Standards of the Mennonite church. Since I am an ecclesial mutt, raised Presbyterian, discipled by evangelicals, interned for Southern Baptists, helped by the Emergent, married by Episcopalians, schooled in a nondenominational setting, then finally arriving in the Mennonite church, this was one of the harder vows to take on. Not because I have plans to break them, but because of Ephraim Radner.

Before I confronted Ephraim Radner’s work in lectures at Seattle Pacific, which lay out much of the argument of the book, I had already been dissuaded from attempting to find a ‘true’ church, or the right ecclesial structure. However, Radner’s work in A Brutal Unity doesn’t attempt to dissuade from that search but to call out that finding correct expression of the church but that even in finding it you’re not exempt from the dimensions of the discipleship. For Radner, this comes to direct head in Philippians 2:

The ‘one mind’, the ‘same mind’, the ‘same love’, the ‘full accord’ of which Paul speaks…cannot refer to such unified agreement. Rather, oneness of mind is received through have the “mind of Christ,” which is the one who gave up the form of God for that of a slave and emptied himself into death. Paul’s words do not constitute a denial of God, but point instead to a suffering of the contradiction between obedience in unity with the world that is filled with “tribulation” and seemingly mastered by one who is not God (cf. John 16:11,33). And it gives rise to the exalted life of God’s redemption. (P. 446)

While reading the book I thought of a lot about how it would connect to different Pastors, but one in particular who ran a well-known reformed blog. His blog was reformed in that “young, restless, reformed” way and it demonstrated the Spirit of one who had supposedly found the correct doctrine and church. But then his opinion of the Solas changed to the point where he felt he had to resign his ministry to join the Catholic Church. I don’t feel he knew that his first call was not the right doctrine and ecclesial life to the very people whom he was connected with. For Radner staying would not have meant the denial of the correct doctrines he had found, but the suffering of them for the community and relationships he had been called to.

So to put it concretely: I’m an ordained Mennonite pastor. But I, the Mennonite pastor, can be faithful to that call by possibly becoming something else because I’m a Christian, by suffering that very contradiction to go the places I will let Jesus take me. For “Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:12-14)

A Brutal Unity is in fact brutal. But it’s brutality is much like Pandora’s box that when everything that is evil has come out, we find hope. This is the hope we find in Jesus who gives “himself over to something that is not God.” (p. 12-13) Let us hand ourselves over as well.

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Friday

“If there is no Sabbath- no regular and commanded not-working, not-talking — we soon become totally absorbed in what we are doing and saying, and God’s work is either forgotten or marginalized. When we work we are most god-like, which means that it is in our work that it is easier to develop god-pretensions. Un-sabbathed, our work becomes the entire context in which we define our lives. We lose God-consciousness, God-awareness, sightings of resurrection. We lose the capacity to sing “this is my Father’s world” and end up chirping little self-centered ditties about what we are doing and feeling.”

--Eugene Peterson

“The purpose of Sabbath is not to eliminate the working days or to divest them of their proper tasks, but rather to obtain for them precisely the light from above which they lack.”

-- Karl Barth

Confession: I am horrible at keeping a Sabbath. It is probably the most hypocritical area of my life. In fact, I would guess if you asked most pastors on scale from 1-10 how important it is to keep a regular Sabbath they would say 8-10. But if you looked at how good pastors are at actually keeping a Sabbath it would tell a much different story.

Lebanon Mennonite purposely gives me Friday off to rest, reflect, to take time to pray, to engage God’s world and creation, and be reminded that I am not God. But normally I fail to take the day. I take calls, respond to texts, work on finishing the youth study, go visit someone. It is probably less about the expectation that I be working, and more to do with fact that like many of you I have a hard time taking a rest. There is always work to be done! Why would I spend a day avoiding technology, turning off the TV, avoiding commerce, when clearly the world needs me to be working?

When we take a Sabbath we can begin to see that it is God that sustains the world, not our human efforts. But often times when we are given time off we expect other people to be at work so we don’t have to be. But biblically we see the opposite:

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in

them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

When God commands we take a Sabbath rest it is not just a rest for ourselves but for everybody, even the animals. I don’t know if this means we shouldn’t shop or go out to eat on Sunday, it does mean it is something we should think twice about. Learning about how the Jews approached this helped me appreciate how this balances out. If you look at the week as 6 days with a day of rest you would begin to spend three days preparing for that day of rest. Getting your shopping done, getting your chores and homework done, and then resting. Taking a good rest. After the rest you would have 3 days to reflect on that day of rest. To think about the connections you made, the stories you told, the activities you took part in, and to remember the time you spent connecting with God.

Sabbath keeping holds the possibly of reminding us we are not God, changing how we view time, opening the door for God to come into our lives and week, and allowing us to rest in the knowledge of the one is making mercies new every morning.

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Thursday

Two reflections sum up my Thursday:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

-- John 17:20-23

First thing Thursday morning, I wake up and head over to the River Center for prayer and fellowship with about 12 different pastors. During this time we sing, read scripture, pray for one another, and listen. This is a great time of fellowship in my week, but also a chore. Whenever you get three pastors in a room there is bound to be four different interpretations of scripture. However, Jesus calls us as Christians to be one as He and the Father is one. I believe that Jesus cares about Christian unity more than He cares about our disagreements. If we as Christians care about Christian unity we don’t get to choose who we are unified with. To only be unified with those Christians you agree with is no virtue at all because that is not true unity. You have to be willing to go to those you disagree with, to say that you are seeking unity. We as a group of pastors disagree on so much, but through prayer and mission (being sent) we find that we are able to overcome our disagreements and seek to be one.

Remember that exegesis (interpretation) is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use. So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts. Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is. Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people. Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ. Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church. Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly. Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in. He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.

--Andrew Purves

About once a month, I am called to preach. I consider this to be our greatest calling as pastors. To be servants of the word and sacrament is the highest gift we have to give the church. Weeks before I am called to preach I began to let the scriptures ruminate in my head and life. On Thursdays, I will often get away to specifically lay out the words I hope to bring to the church. I wrestle with the texts, ask questions, read the newspaper, and try to tie together the difficult world we live in and the revelation of God in scripture. The sermon is never finished. As Thomas Long states, “Preachers don’t preach because the sermon is finished; they preach because it is Sunday and the time has come.” God is up to something in our midst, Jesus is active in the world and that is the good word of hope! As I prepare the

sermon, I have to remember and think about where does our hope come from? It doesn’t come from politics, sports, human effort, money, or esteem; our hope comes from the Lord and that is often what I attempt to distill on my Thursdays.

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Wednesday

Wednesday is perhaps both my busiest day, as well as my favorite. Like most days, it starts with prayer, but on Wednesday I pray with my good friend and Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, Pete. We start each one of our meetings with a devotional that rotates from week to week before discussing and discerning together the nature and shape of pastoral calling. It is often during these times I will begin to think about problems differently, understand a task in a new light, or just feel connected with someone who shares my concerns.

At the office I work on the youth study for Sunday, check-in on my CASA case, and prep for my evening small group before heading off for Laundry Love. This week the youth study is on Luke’s gospel where the 72 come back from being sent out and exclaim “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.” And Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” I know, or often know, that going to Laundry Love is participating in the sent-ness of being a disciple but today I take the time to consider the cosmic dimensions of participating in God’s mission. The demons will submit to Jesus name? The demons of addiction, brokenness, anger, depression, and homelessness, are beginning to be broken in this sending and Satan falls like lightening. As I place the quarters in the washers I try to make each one a prayer, a prayer to drive out the demons in this place, and let each fall into machine as if it is Satan falling like lightening. We spent nearly $80 some days, so by estimation I drove about 320 demons (in quarters).

After Laundry Love I normally return to the office to close up for the day before heading home to get a quick dinner and set-up for small group. One of the greatest things I feel Christians need today is to continually find places where they can reconnect to our worship, our story, and other Christians. It is not easy to be a Christian nowadays, but small group serves as oasis in the desert where I can reconnect to the body of believers and the worship of God.

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Tuesday

TUESDAY

On Tuesdays I have two meetings in the morning to help me set my agenda for the week. The first meeting is in prayer. After I take Kelli to work I come home and sit down with coffee and open up my prayer book. My prayer book always begins with “O’Lord, Let me soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun.” One of the things I intentionally try and do during this time is to listen for what God might be wakening me up to in the world. God is often up to things and is merely looking for us join rather than invent a whole new thing. I pray for the world, our community, and our church asking God’s reign to set up in the ruins of all that is passing. I read scripture, not because it terribly enlightening or exciting for me but because it tell the story of the shape God’s action takes in the world, most clearly in the person of Christ. To close often I will pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Then I finish my coffee and head to our weekly staff meeting. During this time Brent, Eva, and I update each other on what is going on for us that week, and what we need from each other for the next week. Sometimes each of us is moving on the same page and everything just works. Other times we have to catch up, be clear, and listen.

For many of us it would be easy to play these two meetings off each other. Am I listening to God or am I merely doing what humans want? While I would admit this is an important question I think we have to ask if such a dichotomy exists. What if God’s setting of the agenda is our work with other people? We can pretend like they simply opposites but what if God wants to exist in mission and love with others for the sake of his kingdom in the world? Always ask what God might be asking of you, but always remember that even Jesus sent his disciples out in groups of two.

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Monday

This is the first in what will hopefully be a 7 part series for the church newsletter on the rhythms of my week. I am not writing about a specific day but how I would sum up my Monday over the course of a month. If I talk about people I will change the names and circumstances. The goal of these reflections is not to put everything I do, or remind you how busy your pastors are, but to call attention to rhythms we all live in and how I see God at work in my world, so that hopefully you can see God at work in yours.

My week begins in stillness. Some Mondays I am the only person in the church building. Other Mondays I see multiple visitors, or hang out with fellowship commission while they cook the birthday dinner. But there is always some stillness when I show up at the church and it is completely empty, everybody gone from Sunday worship living the gospel out in the world.

On Monday I typically try to frame my week. What day I am going to get this done, what meetings do I have, how I am going to be in three places at once? But, the most important part of Monday is the time I spend in prayer, study, and work.

For many people prayer comes naturally, but for me it requires intentional time and words. I would say that during my day I am constantly aware of God, and speaking to God, but the real time I spend in prayer is a time of listening and of opening myself up to what God is saying or doing in my world. Sometimes I come away refreshed, other times with nothing, but through the ritual of opening myself I feel I become more aware of God’s work. This Monday I prayed the Psalms, and go through one of the prayer books in my office. As I pray and reflect I consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:

· Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctu­ary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

Monday is also the one day I try to set some intentional time aside to study. This first begins with study of the Scriptures. Typically I try and follow some sort of Bible reading plan. Right now the youth and I are reading a chapter a day in the New Testament, 5 days a week (we will finish the whole NT at the end of year). On top of studying the Scriptures I study some theology, biblical studies, or read a commentary. If I am preaching the following Sunday this is the day I begin to add other sources in considering what I will say about a particular text.

Work is the final thing I do Monday. Here work doesn’t mean “work” like yours or my jobs. What it means is intentionally getting into the work God is doing in the world. This means I wrap up my Monday office hours at 4:15 and ride my bike to soup kitchen. Normally I have to talk myself into going and sometimes I don’t want to go, but at the soup kitchen is where I put flesh on my prayers for the world. While serving I recall the words of the Psalmist:

You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming
in order to get food from the ground,
and wine,
which cheers people’s hearts,
along with oil,
which makes the face shine,
and bread,
which sustains the human heart.

(Psalm 104:14-15)

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TMI

One of the things that has kept me from blogging in recent years is having too much information and data. Before seminary it was easy to think I had might have something to say but as found out more information I felt less able to say anything. On one level this kept me obsessed with trying to make sure I was “right” or “win”, something I don’t even hold as virtue. But on another level it has helped squash whatever I felt like I could bring to the world in writing, the problem with that is I am not sure I even trying to bring something to the world with my writing. It’s just something I actually enjoy doing but I was letting my tendency to try and get TMI keep me from doing something I actually enjoyed.

All this to say I am going to try and not let my obsession with TMI keep me from writing in the future. But the other thing they say about TMI is that if you are always getting information it will paralyze you from creating. That in some sense we need consumption caps (like only so many hours consuming information in a day) because that will actually keep you from being able to create.

  • “So here’s my own Zen koan: we can do things we don’t think we can do if we don’t about doing them. I also learned that if you can’t write a book, write a lot of essays. If you can’t write an essay, write a lot of paragraphs. If you can’t write a paragraph, write a line or a word. And if you can’t do that on the page, write your truth with your life, which is far more important than any book.”
  • Parker Palmer, Christian Century, September 7, 2010.

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Learning to say…

Eugene Peterson once told some younger clergy to find a theologian or two to keep company with as they pastor. Allegedly, one of his criteria for choosing someone was that they be dead and of course, if you are going to be a pastor a long time you want to pick somebody who has written a lot. When I first heard this I thought it was pretty sound advice and went about buying Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth (somebody who is both dead and has written more than I might be able to handle in my lifetime). Ideally, I think you are supposed to think with this person, be against this person, struggle with them, curse them, love them, and have them lead you. All things Barth has proved more than capable of doing for me.And while I still love my Barth, I think I have also picked Stanley Hauerwas to walk with me on this journey. The writing of Stanley Hauerwas always manages to keep me engaged and continually pulls on me. Someone who was interviewing author Marilynn Robinson noted that when confronted with question sometimes she would shrug her shoulders and say “Calvin, again” (John Calvin) as if he was standing in the room. I often feel the same way about this combination of Barth and Hauerwas. While Dr. Hauerwas isn’t dead, he has written quite enough to keep someone engaged for a long time. One of the reasons I am sure I can’t escape his writing is because of paragraphs like the one below. If you have read Hauerwas this line will hardly appear as revolutionary to you, but since reading it Saturday morning I have turned it over and over in my head. It has caused me to consider if I am dependent with a sigh or without regret, that if knowing this has it opened up room for prayer in my life, have I become capable of seeing the beauty of existence, and what would such a thing mean for us? • Learning to say “God” requires that I learn to acknowledge that I am a “dependent rational animal.” It may be possible to acknowledge that we are rational dependent animals without learning to say “God,” but to learn to say I am dependent without regret at least creates the space the practice of prayer can occupy. To be human is to be an animal that has learned to pray. Prayer often come only when we have no alternatives left, but prayer may also be the joy that comes from the acknowledgement of the sheer beauty, the absolute contingency, of existence. o Working with Words, Hauerwas, Stanley. xiii. Wipf and Stock.

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How does one begin blogging again? It seems the more energy poured into the announcement that someone is going to start blogging is directly related to the lack of blogging they will actually do following said announcement. So there.

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Albums of the Year

My much hipper than I friend in Seattle, Andrew Galore, recently posted his top 10 albums from 2010 and 2011. They are pretty good lists minus the amazing, unbelievable, unexplainable, incomprehensible exclusion of Kanye West from his 2010 list (that is unless he has a secret number one that is too great to mention: Kanye’s album.) As part of the deal of him posting his lists, I told him I would post my best albums from the past year. Mr. Galore’s lists are probably better for helping you discover some hidden gems and music you haven’t heard of, whereas my lists contain things you have heard and the fact that I do listen to some CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). I’m sure I am missing plenty of things I really enjoyed over the past two years but these are the ones that stick out right now (Isn’t that really the fault of digital that I can’t really think of everything I listened to?).

2011

  • Pick of the Year

Fiest, Metals: I just love this album. The lyrics, the music, the depth, and top of that it’s a much different type of style than her previous music. It was kind of a weak year compared to last year but this is just the most complete album of the year.

  • Christian: For Christian music I listened to two artists who released albums in back to back years. Individually the album are pretty good but if they had take the best from each album we would looking at some of the top CCM of the last 5 years.

John Mark McMillian, Economy & The Medicine

Gungor, Ghosts Upon the Earth & Beautiful Things

  • Rap: All in all I spend more time listening to Kanye’s album more than any other rap album. But I found Drake’s album last month and I have really take to it.

Drake, Take Care

  • Indie-ish: I am not really sure what to classify these albums are but I am sure you have heard of most them and seen them on plenty of lists.

Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials

Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean

The Head the Heart, The Head and the Heart

  • Pomo Crooners: I wanted to list these two together because I think they represent a new genre of music for me. The style, at first, was something I had to adapt my music listening tastes to, but in the end they are both amazing albums. Bon Iver was close to pick of the year but was knocked off by Fiest in December.

James Blake, James Blake

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Adele, 21

For fun what I would listed for 2010

  1. Kanye West
  2. Sufjan Stevens
  3. Mumford & Sons
  4. The National
  5. Sara Groves
  6. Over the Rhine
  7. The Black Keys
  8. Brooke Fraser, Flags

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“The God who is present in Jesus Christ is the one who is enthroned over heaven and earth and therefore the God who is present specially in His work of revelation and reconciliation and generally in the world at large. He does not mere give his creature, as He gives all other creatures, his space, created space, from the fullness of his own un created and creative space. But he also gives him his own space itself. He is with this man. He takes him up to sit at his right hand, to occupy his supra-heavenly throne. And it is in doing this that God is, and reveals himself to be, the one He is, omnipresent in himself and as such outside himself, in his special work, and in his general work which is subservient to his special work, finding its goal and completion and there having its meaning and origin in it, and there in Jesus Christ himself.”

II.1 p.487.

I am not sure if we can declare this blog dead, but it has been dead for awhile. That said I am still plugging along. Maybe I should write something at some point.

This was posted at the Barth blog, but I guess my lack of writing goes for here as well.

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January Newsletter

“Will you pray for us tonight Mark?” She asked the room.

Silence.

“Are you asking me to pray for us tonight?” I responded.

“Yes.”

“Ok. But before I start I want to say my name is Matt.”

This was the scene this past Monday as I prayed before the meal at the Lebanon Soup Kitchen. It hadn’t been long since I started serving every Monday and it is understandable that my name was lost in the shuffle that is Monday night. Normally I arrive at 4:15pm to the wonderful smell of food that has been cooking all day and begin to help by pouring the milk for the diners to grab after they get their food. After doing this we all stand around in clumsy circle and wait for Janet to pray for our meal, our service in community, and for those who will partake in the food the volunteers have prepared. Janet, the soup kitchen coordinator, wasn’t there this week so the praying instantly fell to the pastor in room. Except only one person knew I am a pastor and she was the one who asked. Normally I like to put thought into my prayers, but I was caught off guard so I led us out in a feeble short prayer, nothing like the one Janet offers.

Afterwards, we broke into our jobs, worked swiftly but efficiently for the next hour as people poured in from the cold rainy conditions, grabbed something to eat, and enjoyed the warmth within the church hall. This week a young man from church played Christmas hymns on the piano as people ate and I couldn’t help but sing along looking at the people whom we were serving, people who might know more intimately what a “Silent Night” feels like when there is no room in the inn. I couldn’t help but imagine what side of the table we might find Jesus on in this situation. Of course Jesus fed the poor so he would be helping right? But he also was without a home, an itinerant preacher, who seemed to wander with people like the ones I was serving. Would he be outside waiting to be invited in while I offered up a feeble prayer within the empty hall? And I remember the words of Matthew 25 in which the those gathered ask “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” only to have the response be, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Lost in the wondering of what it all means, I can forget that answer. Christ is here amongst the poor and that even in feeble prayers before a short time of volunteering I have a chance to do something for the least of His brothers, and in that sense, I am doing it for him.

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This is the ultimate context into which we are born: God's hospitable generosity, creatively relating, to us, free of creatures in creating and attenively delighting in them in their otherness to God, self-committed to that which is created.David Kelsey, Eccentric Existence.

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“USE WELL THY FREEDOM”

Freedom

I just finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen this weekend and if you are looking for a good Christmas gift this time of year I would recommend this novel. Although I read a couple of reviews that said by the end you still don’t care for any of the characters I found too much of myself and others in many of characters to dismiss them so easily (although early in the book I felt that exact way). As the book stands quite well as just a reflection on messed up a family can be in the modern world but it also lives well as a essay on its title. One of my favorite scenes is when the mother is visiting her daughter at college and see a big sign that says: “USE WELL THY FREEDOM.” And reflecting on the novel I think that is one the real interesting concepts to both view the book through as well as modern life. Here is quote from Franzen himself on why he choose the title:

And I will say this about the abstract concept of 'freedom'; it's possible you are freer if you accept what you are and just get on with being the person you are, than if you maintain this kind of uncommitted I'm free-to-be-this, free-to-be-that, faux freedom.

It was a blast to read and I was kind of sad to goodbye to family as the book came to a close. I do think that these words from Dr. Carter work well as a postscript for the Christian reading the book:

God-with-Us means we are free to be for another, for their good, for their flourishing, for their well-being. In this sense, Christmas is liberation, which is love.

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