Pithy Post: When the Ashes are Washed Away

On Ash Wednesday, and during the whole season of Lent, Christians around the world remember their mortality. Today, many of us remember it by putting ashes on our foreheads. It evokes that famous passage in the Bible:

For dust you are
and to dust you will return.
We remember intentionally and communally what we all know personally each time we lose a loved one. Our world is broken, we are broken, and we will break.
But are Christians just a bunch of morbid mood killers? No. We sit in the reality of our ashes so that we can fully celebrate it when Christ washes them away. Lent ends with Holy Week! Lent ends with Jesus taking on our mortality, donning our ashes for us, dying on the cross, and then raising from the dead on Easter day. Lent ends with Jesus washing away our ashes in the cleansing water of baptism.
Lent ends.

Pithy Post: Jamie Smith’s “An Open Letter to Praise Bands”

I went to a Casting Crowns concert on Thursday night with my lovely wife as our Valentine’s day gift to each other. While we were driving, I asked her, “How much like a contemporary church service do you think this will be?” By the time it was over, we had experienced so many of those elements common in church services: Opening songs, reflections on Scripture texts, times of prayer, opportunity to respond with offerings (by sponsoring a World Vision child), etc.

I loved the concert, but it did leave me wondering things like, “What is the practical difference between this and some contemporary worship services?” Jamie Smith, author of Desiring the Kingdom, offers this reflection on the difference between concerts and corporate Christian worship. It’s worth reading if you’re interested in understanding how the form of our worship impacts our understanding of worship.

Fors Clavigera: An Open Letter to Praise Bands.

Pithy Post: Drudgery and All Its Benefits

I just finished reading one of the most exciting chapters in one of the most intriguing books I have ever laid eyes on.

The chapter: On taking useful notes

The book: A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate Turabian.

Ok, perhaps not the most exciting read. In fact, it was downright boring. But since I have started my Master of Theology degree and I’m starting to write major research papers, it’s necessary. As I trudged through the material, I couldn’t help but realize that what I was reading was important. And that makes it even more frustrating. Dull material is the stuff you want to skim. But if I did I would suffer for it later. If I don’t learn a good note taking system, I might accidentally misrepresent an important source or worse…plagiarize.

And, lest this blog start reading like A Manual for Writers, enough on note taking.

It strikes me that note taking takes discipline, as do so many important things in life. If you want to achieve soccer superstardom, Read more of this post

Pithy Post: Nietzsche and the Bible on Complaining

Although I don’t agree with all of Friedrich Nietzsche’s conclusions, he sure had some brilliant insights into the human heart. This is one is about complaining:

“A drive to find causes is powerful in [the human being]: it must be somebody’s fault that he’s feeling bad…Even his ‘beautiful indignation’ does him good; all poor devils like to whine–it gives him a little thrill of power.  Even complaints, the act of complaining, can give life the charm on account of which one can stand to live it: there is a subtle dose of revenge in every complaint… (The Twilight of the Idols, § 34)

Complaining is, according to Nietzsche, a kind of revenge. It is a way of gaining power over some person or institution that has a certain kind of power over you. But according to Paul, Read more of this post

Pithy Post: The Death Penalty Re-imagined

Seven year-old Bran looked on as his father, Lord Ned Stark of Winterfell, executed  a condemned criminal. On the ride back to the castle, Ned tried to explain to his young boy:

“Do you understand why I did it [instead of a paid executioner]?…we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die….A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.”  A Game of Thrones, 16.  Read more of this post

Pithy Post: The Vocation of the Poet (Part 2)

The quote from Kenyon that I posted yesterday, about the poet being a relentless finder of names for things and an empathic companion to console in the face of loss, reminds me of someone. It strikes me that Jesus was an awful lot like that.

Jesus was the consummate truth-teller. He never shied away from naming what he saw. I remember a story Read more of this post

Pithy Post: The Vocation of the Poet

In A Hundred White Daffodils, poet Jane Kenyon tells us what she thinks poetry is all about:

“The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name.  The poet’s job is to find a name for everything; to be a fearless finder of the names of things; to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language.  I think it’s very serious stuff, art; it’s not just decoration.  The other job the poet has is to console in the face of inevitable disintegration, of loss and death, all of the tough things we have to face as humans.  We have the consolation of beauty, of one soul, extending to another soul and saying, ‘I’ve been there too.'” (pp. 183-4)

I think she is giving us not only the job description of a poet, but also the vocation of a pastor. It’s one of the wonderful and terrifying responsibilities we who stand in front of people on Sunday morning face. What Kenyon describes is someone who is able to speak the truth in love with beauty. The ‘beauty’ part is a gift of God and a skill to hone, but speaking the truth in love is, for every Christian, a responsibility and a joy.

In fact, I wonder if most of what Kenyon describes should also be called the job description of a friend.

Pithy Post: Asking Forgiveness

Forgiveness is no easy thing to give, but it is sometimes just as difficult to receive. Part of the process of being forgiven is receiving blame, owning the evil I have committed. And who wants to do that? It’s better, we think, if we just ‘let bygones be bygones’ and forget about it. But without forgiveness the evil we have thrown out into the world just keeps bouncing off of our own soul and others’, and it destroys every beautiful thing it touches.

“Some say that Jerusalem is the very center of the world for asking forgiveness. Myself? I call it here…now.” Godfrey, Kingdom of Heaven.

Pithy Post: Truth in an Age of Politics

During this election season, going to factcheck.org is a necessary but altogether distressing practice. Too often, truth is not nearly as important as repetition and rhetoric is substituted for reason. As discouraging as this is to so many of us nowadays, the reality is that throughout history people in power have used language as a tool to gain and maintain that power. It is in this type of world that Jesus sent his disciples and sends us to speak and live authentically. Read more of this post

Pithy Post: Can We Call People Evil?

It seems like most of us are either too ready to call others evil or too reluctant to say it like it is. Is it good for society for us to quickly label people who are different from us? Is it good for society for us to refrain from ascribing responsibility to people for their actions? And, aside from whether it is good for society, is it true to who we are as human beings? I think the quotes below help us think through these things more clearly. Read more of this post