Archive for June 2010

Pastoral prayer

June 27th, 2010 — 6:55am

O Lord our God, blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our hearts rejoice this morning in the grace that invites us to know Your name and to call upon Your name, and in the grace that has called us by Your own name. We thank You, our God, for Your outgoing love, for Your insistence on making Yourself known to us in all of Your majesty, beauty, and goodness; we thank You as well for Your ingathering love, for Your insistence on adopting us as sons and daughters, and giving us royal privileges in Your household. We bless You that in all You are as God – and how can we begin to take that in? – You are our God, and You command us to believe it is so. We rejoice, our Lord, in revealing grace, saving grace, and enlivening grace; we rejoice in baptizing grace and nourishing grace; we rejoice in justifying, adopting, sanctifying, and preserving grace.

And yet we cannot think of all Your grace, our Lord, without knowing in our inmost hearts how terribly we sin against it. We do not begin to love You as Your love deserves. We do not begin to serve You as the King You are. We are often so muddled, Lord, that compared to various created things we find the Creator barely interesting. You call us Your sons and daughters, but we surely don’t behave like it; we carry about Your name in this world and disgrace it by living with little more zeal for Your glory than our pagan neighbors. And yet, our God, while sins against grace are the worst sins, we know also that precisely here is our hope: that if Your grace abounded to us while we were enemies, it will be still more abundant to us now that we are children – and we beseech You, our Father, not only that You would pardon our dullness, waywardness, and neglectfulness before You, but also that You would make this hour of worship a turning point in our lives; that You would grant us to go forth from here a more faithful and affectionate people, just because we have feasted here afresh on Your glory and grace. We ask these things in the name of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ.

Comment » | Grace and Life

Why men don’t lead

June 25th, 2010 — 8:46am

Ten reasons men don’t lead at home and in the church (in no particular order):

1. They haven’t digested God’s mission for His kingdom people, or thought through a plan for accomplishing it; and so they can’t guide would-be followers toward definite objectives.

2. They are great at dreaming and terrible at executing; they haven’t counted the cost of a long obedience in the same direction.

3. They haven’t stopped to take prayerful inventory of their lives in at least a year, if ever.

4. They are preoccupied with the pleasures of youth, or with a personal success program.

5. They are more relationally insecure than they want anyone to know; and when people aren’t eager to follow, they aren’t eager to lead.

6. They have a longstanding habit of making “soft choices” (the easier of two options).

7. They have not developed communication and listening skills, and have no serious intention of doing so.

8. They feel ill equipped intellectually and/or educationally, and stop at this feeling.

9. They feel morally compromised and unable to call others to a standard higher than what they have attained.

10. They have never seen a role model of a good leader, and have no plan for locating one.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Heaven on earth

June 24th, 2010 — 4:12pm

I finished reading Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World last night. In the context of various other things I am reading, it was a bombshell on the playground of my mental life. Some thoughts now running about vigorously in my head (I would not want to blame poor Schmemann for all of these):

First, this work is probably the most helpful thing I’ve ever read on the “sacramentality” of the world. I’ve been mildly obsessed lately with how “heaven” intersects with “earth,” with how we may articulate the relationship between the world above and the world below in a way that is not dualistic. According to Schmemann (it is always perilous to paraphrase something as brilliant as his work), religion emphasizes the world above (heaven) as escape from the world below (earth), and tries to replicate the life of the world above by living apart from the world below; secularism by contrast emphasizes the world below and ignores the world above. Both of these, he says, are outgrowths of the fall of man, which was (and is) “noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world” (page 18). God intended all created things to be “sacramental” to man, in the sense that man was to “respond to God’s blessing with his blessing” (page 15). It was precisely man’s refusal to use the world in this sacramental way – it was his insistence on eating and drinking the blessing of God apart from God, and without thanksgiving to God – that was the essence of man’s fall. It was in this “noneucharistic” partaking of the world that heaven and earth were rent asunder – heaven is now pursued by religion, earth by secularism, while both agree that “this world” is no longer the sphere of “life in God.” The world, by both religion and secularism, has been secularized.

It is in the Eucharist, and in the liturgy of the church as a whole, says Schmemann, that this “life in God,” abandoned by Adam but restored in Christ the Last Adam, is enacted once again; and it is out of the liturgy of the church that she goes forth into the world on a mission to “live in God” once again. Her life in the world is an extension of her liturgy, one might say: she receives all of life, in Christ, as God’s blessing, blesses Him in all of life, and in this life disciples the nations.

Second, even before reading Schmemann, I had been thinking about the distinctive “atmosphere” generated by “eucharistic living”; and I found Schmemann deeply confirming at every turn. It is amazing how cold and harsh is the “climate” of so much life among the religious. Where is “the joy of the Lord” and its strength? Where is serving Him “with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things” (Deut 28:47)? Where is the light and laughter, the delight in fire and food, in oil and wine, in His daily benefits in the land of the living? Why the suspicion of created things that nourish our bodies and gladden our hearts? Why do we “secularize” these things, distancing ourselves from them as much as possible so as to concentrate on “holy” things with deadly seriousness? Can we possibly expect our children to be excited about such a life, or to have any idea how to connect it with the “real world” they must live in every day?

I will go back to this work again and again. But my deepest desire is to live in this way, to live a heavenly life firmly embodied in this wonderful created world.

Comment » | Incarnation and Embodiment

The Deist

June 23rd, 2010 — 9:07am

“A Deist is a person who in his short life has not found the time to become an atheist.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 2.603)

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

Beginning stages

June 22nd, 2010 — 3:45pm

“Who can say that Christianity has had the time to translate the totality of its contents into institutions? I have the impression that instead we are still at the beginning stages of Christianity.” (Rémi Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages: Philosophical Explorations of Medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, p. 22)

Comment » | The Way of All the Earth

A couple links

June 22nd, 2010 — 1:47pm

1. I have a longstanding interest in the natural law question, going back to my law school days. Here’s a worthwhile article responding to recent developments of natural law theory at Escondido.

2. First Things recently posted another essay from one of my favorite contemporary theologians, David Bentley Hart. You really must check it out.

Comment » | Of Cabbages and Kings

Prophets, priests, and kings

June 22nd, 2010 — 9:49am

In our distracted world the pursuit of Christian piety (beyond reading one’s Bible, praying, and attending church) tends to be a rather ill defined and haphazard affair. What is offered below is a tool for self-analysis in this regard. A word of explanation is called for.

I have found it helpful in recent years to think of Christian piety in terms of maturing as prophets, priests, and kings to the Lord our God. I will not defend that model here, but what I mean is this: God made man to function as a prophet in the world; this means (at least) that we are to be listeners, learners, knowers, and communicators. God also made man to function as a priest; this means we are to be worshippers, managers, preservers, and protectors. God also made man to function as a king; this means we are to be planners, builders, cultivators, and rulers. These three offices are very active; one does not mature in them by drifting along, letting life happen to oneself. Conscious effort and constant self-evaluation are necessary. One must be intentional about one’s growth and progress. I have suggested, then, some questions to help us know how we are doing: these may not be very well crafted, and certainly others could be proposed, but I hope they may at least point in the right direction.

Questions to aid maturing as a “prophet”:

1. What am I currently trying to learn?
2. How am I currently pursuing knowledge of God? Is my love for God growing with my knowledge? To what extent am I still ignorant about God?
3. How am I currently pursuing knowledge of other people? Is my love for them growing with my knowledge? To what extent am I still ignorant about my fellow humans?
4. How am I currently pursuing knowledge of creation? Is my love for creation (and the Creator) growing with my knowledge? To what extent am I still ignorant about the created order?
5. What have I read in the last year? What am I reading now? What is the quality of the books I read?
6. Am I currently communicating truth and affirming goodness in my speech? Am I currently communicating falsehood and affirming evil in my speech? Is my speech always “seasoned with grace”? In what ways is my speech “rotten”?

Questions to aid maturing as a “priest”:

1. What space (or place) has the Lord entrusted to me? Over what has He given me jurisdiction?
2. What is the general state of affairs in this jurisdiction? Is it well ordered? Is it pure? Is it beautiful?
3. Am I setting apart times for worship, especially those God has appointed? Does my life revolve around such times of worship? How are these times of worship influencing the rest of my life?
4. What habits am I consciously cultivating? What disciplines am I cultivating? What are the routines of my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly life? What rituals do I (and my household) regularly observe?
5. What work has God given me to do? How am I seeking His pleasure in my work? How am I enjoying His goodness in it? How am I exhibiting in my work His beauty, goodness, grace, truth, and righteousness?
6. In what ways is my life infected with lawlessness, darkness, lies, rebellion, unbelief, and idolatry? In what ways am I currently defiling my body, my soul, or the “space” God has entrusted to me?

Questions to aid maturing as a “king”:

1. What is the “kingdom” for the coming of which our Lord taught us to pray? How am I actively contributing to the expansion of this kingdom in the world?
2. Who are my superiors, my equals, and my inferiors? How am I honoring each of these in their station? Am I currently discipling anyone?
3. How am I currently cultivating manners that befit a member of God’s royal household?
4. How am I currently cultivating fruitfulness of soul (mind, affections, motives, choices)? How am I currently cultivating fruitfulness in bodily deeds (charity, hospitality, witness, homebuilding, education, skill, creativity and innovation, etc.)? Am I simply maintaining the status quo in my life?
5. How am I currently interacting with the “stuff” of creation? How am I cultivating this “stuff” for the joy of God and to exhibit His excellence, wisdom, goodness, and beauty?
6. How am I currently wasting time? Am I working too much? Too little? Why do I work?
7. Am I currently building anything? What am I aiming to accomplish, achieve, or obtain through my work? What are my goals and objectives for the next month, the next year, the next five years, and before I die?
8. Is the atmosphere of my life one of peace? Of joy? Of gratitude and contentment? How am I enjoying my God, my family, my friends, and God’s creation? How am I paying attention to the goodness of the Lord?

Comment » | Grace and Life

Puff again, with feeling

June 21st, 2010 — 7:35am

I’m no economist, but the column by Paul Krugman in the Times today may be the most extraordinarily inane piece of analysis I have ever read. He seems sincerely to believe that yet-more-excessive government spending (?!) will actually stimulate the economy, whereupon (and not before) it will become safe for the government to start saving money. The best I could gather about the details of his theory is that the government can create jobs by spending, and put money back in people’s pockets by cutting healthcare costs. Very well, let us hypothesize that this succeeds. There is no mention of the fact that jobs created by government money must also be sustained by government money, so how does this help us ever get around to government saving? No mention, either, of the fact that, while reducing healthcare costs might perhaps put some money back in the consumer’s pocket, the whole point of economic stimulus is to get that money back out of the pocket and into the market, with the result that in a few years our consumer is broke again and – mirabile dictu – eager for a government bailout. We have created an economy premised on overspending, and now people like Krugman seriously think overspending by the government will stimulate consumers to overspend and the fruit will be a flourishing economy. Dare I say: blowing up a balloon-rabbit bigger and bigger never makes it a real rabbit. What’s missing in our economy is real value – hard assets instead of paper promises. We go on spending money we don’t have so we can possess things we don’t own, our government goes on spending money it doesn’t have so we can spend money we don’t have so we can possess things we don’t own – an admirable balloon, or it was before it started sagging. Thanks to Krugman for reminding Uncle Sam to puff again, with feeling.

Comment » | Things Come Lately

Sabbath thoughts

June 20th, 2010 — 3:36pm

Two seemingly random thoughts that crossed my pastoral mind today:

1. Secularism “normalizes” death by mostly ignoring it or treating it as no big deal, and focusing almost exclusive on the present life. Religion normalizes death by embracing it as the longed-for escape from the present world. Christianity regards death as the great enemy to be vanquished by Jesus Christ, in order that we may once again live in the body the life for which we were created on the earth. (I’m following Schmemann pretty closely here.)

2. Many of us are quick to regard our anger toward other sinners as “righteous indignation.” It is worth pausing to consider whether our anger is righteous, or whether it is in fact sinful anger in a righteous cause. This is a significant difference.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Morning prayer

June 20th, 2010 — 6:28am

“O Treasury of good things, Fountain eternal, O Father all-holy who workest wonders, all-powerful and almighty: We all adore thee and entreat thee, calling thy mercies and thy compassion to the aid and defence of our lowliness. Call to remembrance thy servants, O Lord; accept the morning prayers of us all as incense before thee; and let none of us be found reprobate, but encompass us with thy bounties. Call to remembrance, O Lord, those who watch and sing praises to thy glory, and to the glory of thine Only-begotten Son who is our God, and of thy Holy Spirit. Be thou their helper and their support. Receive thou their supplications upon thy most heavenly and spiritually discerning altar.

“For thou art our God, and unto thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

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