Category Archives: Reflections

According To The Whole – Part 3: A Change In Orientation

In Part 1 of this series I looked at the relatively recent phenomenon of churches who claim no particular creed and hold no allegiance to a particular denomination. They are known as “non-denominational” churches, and their preaching, worship, and even organizational structure are all unbound by any traditional parameters. I noted that even many of the churches within mainline denominations are loosening their external denominational identities in favor of appearing more non-denominational. The great apologetic of the non-denom church is: We’re just christians1. And that’s a powerful apologetic to thousands of Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere who grew up in the sleepy old denominations of their grandparents – denominations that were segregated from the others because of mysterious, ancestral disagreements about faith and practice. Continue reading

The Limits of Love

What are the limits of love?  The phrase “I love you” is one of the most ubiquitous and inescapable phrases in the English language.  I’m sure its counterpart phrases are almost equally ubiquitous in other languages.  I doubt you’ve never heard the phrase or spoken it yourself.  But what does it mean?  Fifteen seconds’ thought reveals that we don’t know what it means.  Or maybe we know parts of what it means but are unable to articulate in one succinct explanation the full gamut of the ramifications that come from uttering the words “I love you” to another person.  And I am talking about those words applying to another person, and not just a thing.  I can say I love my can opener, but this is necessarily an objective (in the grammatical sense) love, since there’s no chance of reciprocity of love with an object.  The distinction between subject and object when it comes to love is important, but I think we regularly confuse the two in our love of both people and things. Continue reading

The Fog of Despair

It’s exactly eleven days since I was ordained as a deacon in the service of The Church of the Advent in Atlanta, GA, under the Bishop of the Diocese of the South, within the Province of the Anglican Church in North America, a part of the global Anglican Communion. Today I spoke (as if into the Void, only partly as a prayer) something to the effect of, “If angels who stood in the very presence of God could rebel, how then am I, who cannot see God with my eyes, supposed to faithfully walk the path of trust and submission without being overthrown by the multitude of distractions, temptations, passions, and hindrances I’ll undoubtedly encounter? How is it reasonable to expect me to carry on tirelessly the endless process of becoming divine [that is, partaking of the divine nature — 2 Peter 1:3-8] when the very opposite of that feels so much more natural. Why was I not created differently, so that becoming divine felt natural? Why was everything not created differently so that sin never occurred? And if that’s to be the reality in the New Creation when people are to experience God’s presence directly, then, again, how could angels attending the throne of God rebel?” Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 2: Distinction And Dislocation

Before getting into this post, I want to interject this disclaimer. This series on the faith “according to the whole” is a product of my ongoing labor to better understand the nature and significance of the Church. The impetus behind this labor was my realization that there is much more to the Church (its history, practices, and even its own founding understanding of itself) than I had been aware of most of my life. My awakening to this reality put me on a road to learning as much as I can about the Church, a pursuit that has changed and continues to change my perspective on both the nature and significance of the society for which the New Testament writers used names like Body of Christ, Bride of Christ, and House of God. I don’t aim to lay out all my thoughts about this here, but rather I want to present some information and some basic principles that I think are pertinent to American protestants with similar backgrounds to my own. I want to do this in a spirit of camaraderie, not pompousness or pretentiousness, acknowledging my own limited education and experience. So I submit these thoughts, aware of the disunity among Christians and of the various ecclesiological perspectives out there, not to present a systematic plan for unity, but just to diagnose part of the problem … and hopefully to give a nudge in a better direction. Continue reading

Irony And Paradox

I love looking at life, nature, and reality through different lenses from time to time.  If you pick an idea, a “meta-concept,” to look through, you can be amazed at the colors it brings out all around you.  For example, irony and paradox are good meta-concepts.  David Wright, a Fellow at the CIRCE Institute, spoke on these ideas this past February at the (St. John) Climacus Conference in Louisville, KY.  Here’s an excerpt from his opening remarks. Continue reading

Faith And Sight

Today is the 4th of July, the 235th birthday of our nation, as it were.  I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I anticipate various grilled and delicious foods, a lot of relaxing, and hopefully some illegal fireworks.  Among our current Federal holidays, Independence Day is one of the more straightforward and worthy of the days to close our banks and post offices, I think (Washington’s b-day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day I have my reservations about).  The beginning of a nation, especially one founded on a set of principles and not merely geography or a distinct racial identity, is monumental.  It’s even more so when that beginning is intrinsically bound with the ending of its prior identity as a set of colonies belonging to another nation, hence Independence Day.  Though we often memorialize that set of principles on the 4th as the basis for declaring independence, the holiday is primarily for celebrating the reality of independence itself.  Since independence is a reality, a definite and verifiable situation or condition, and if it were not always so, it must logically have an origin or starting point.  I think it’s interesting that we commemorate that starting point on the anniversary of the ratifying of the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading

Reflection On Lent And Pascha

After observing Lent, and especially the last days of Holy Week, it’s absolutely amazing how exciting the arrival of Easter is. At The Advent, we had a service every night of Holy Week, including a vigil at 11:30 Saturday night in order to celebrate the Resurrection literally first thing in the morning. By the time of our vigil, the mounting anticipation was intense. I was weary from fasting and annoyed at my own shortcomings that the fast had revealed. The powerful Good Friday service the day before had forced me to experience our Lord’s death in new ways. The fact that Saturday itself is part of Holy Week — the fact that I had to observe it too, to think about Jesus’ cold body lying in the dark on a slab, me hiding uncomfortably with the scattered disciples — made me want to jump ahead to the resurrection I knew about from history. The emotions that kept bubbling up didn’t match my circumstances, like when a sad dream affects the tone of the next day. Continue reading

Good Friday

The horrors of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus, had we the eyes to see them, would undoubtedly haunt us for our entire lives.  Every year on the Friday before Easter, Christians try to have the eyes to see that horror.  Good Friday is the day “to know nothing … but Christ and him crucified.”  Because reconciliation with our loving maker came at the greatest cost imaginable, the Church unites in the personal work of trying to feel that pain as acutely as possible.  We visualize the scenes from the accounts we have — the trail, beating, mocking, and crucifixion of Jesus.  We don’t eat much food, because, since we’ve put ourselves there in Israel on that day, we wouldn’t desire food anyway.  While full time ministers and monastics are more fully able to enact their own presence at and participation in the events of that day in the early 30’s A.D., the rest of us have to try while we’re at work or otherwise interacting with a thoroughly secular world that can’t grasp what this day is. Continue reading

According To The Whole – Part 1: The Phenomenon of Non-Denom

… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you — that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.      -John 17:21

I was talking with a friend the other day about his church and about how he helps out with the youth program there. He told me about a recent weekend event where the kids had several opportunities to worship in a group setting, and about how enthusiastically they sang and worshiped. He contrasted the enthusiasm of the kids with some older, stodgy churchgoers he’d experienced, noting that there weren’t many of those at his church. And he went on to tell me that though his church has “Baptist” on its sign, in many respects, “It doesn’t look like your typical Baptist church.” By typical, he of course meant that, at least in generations past, most all Baptist churches, or any churches of a particular denomination, all looked alike. This led us to talk about the phenomenon of non-denominationalism, and about how many churches belonging even to the mainline denominations are beginning to hold on less tightly to their denominational identities and distinctives. In fact, my friend disclosed that he would just prefer we do away with all the denominations and titles and just be Christians. I agreed (with a caveat), lamenting that denominationalism is a blight on Christianity. Continue reading

Epiphany

Today, January 6, is the feast of Epiphany.  For four weeks prior to Christmas we moved through the season of Advent – a season of hoping and expectation.  The essence of Advent reflects our intuitive assessment that the world isn’t the way it should be.  It speaks hope into our situation because of our after-the-fact perspective on the nativity.  We know the savior of the world was born.  But Advent also gives occasion for our explicit hope for the savior’s re-appearing.  Then we finally reached Christmas (from the Old English Cristes Maesse, or Mass of Christ), the season for celebrating the reality of the nativity, the birth of God in flesh, the Incarnation.  And though we may feel exhausted physically, mentally, and liturgically, Epiphany must not be skipped over as a superfluity at the end of this long journey. Continue reading

O Come Lord

Speedily cause the offspring of David, Your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by Your divine help because we wait for Your salvation all the day. Blessed art thou, O L-rd, who causes the strength of salvation to flourish.”

That’s one of the eighteen traditional Jewish benedictions (Shemoneh Ezreh) which were prayed for centuries in the Temple of ancient Israel and are still prayed in synagogues today.  It’s a prayer for the promised one of God, the Messiah, to come and establish his rule and authority, which was always accompanied by the expectation of the ultimate rule of YHWH.  Though there was arguably no expectation that the Messiah would actually be God incarnate, Israel did expect the kingly figure promised of old from David’s line to usher in YHWH’s final salvation. Continue reading

Entertainment Detectives

I almost never go to see movies in the theater.  The cost/worth ratio of most movies is just too high.  I could go into how repulsed I usually get at my theater-mates for their disgusting and distracting snacking habits, “whisperings,” chair-kickings, and ill-conceived entrance/exit strategies, but I’ll just say I think the tickets have gotten too expensive.  Anyway, my point is that I usually catch movies after they’re out of theaters, which means I’m always late to the discussions about them. Continue reading

New Space. Our Space. God’s Space.

I’m writing this post from the middle of a large open room with a large bare floor.  From my lone chair I’m overlooking newly painted concrete and cinderblock, drywall and metal rafters.  I’m alone and it’s quiet; I’m keenly aware of the air conditioner moving around the lingering paint fumes.  Every sound I make echoes across the the bare, hard surfaces, filling the place.  I’m in what is about to turn into the new home of The Advent – my church.  Tomorrow morning we’re going to ask God to bless these walls, this floor, our doorway, and a Table from which we’ll share life together.  We have the space, and now it must be set apart, made holy. Continue reading

This Is My City

I was driving to church today as I do every week to get ready for the service, my mind swarming with tasks and responsibilities for the day.  I approached the downtown connector from I-20 as the trees and billboards cleared and the city skyline opened up.  Low, dramatic clouds framed the tall windowed structures, and a stately golden dome atop the capitol proudly stood out in front of them.  My swarming thoughts dissipated for a moment as I turned to look several times at the panorama which was especially captivating today.  The thought occurred to me: I love this city. Continue reading

The Project – Part 3

This has been a difficult little article series for me to write because it’s stretched me so much.  These are big concepts, and the implications of chasing them out are big.  Though the writing hasn’t come easy, part 3 has finally arrived.  [See Part 1 and Part 2].  So far I’ve given sort of a thumbnail proposal about how we ought to look at the pictures we find in Genesis 1-2 and in Revelation 21-22 (the first two and last two chapters of the Bible, the story of the world).  It’s a difficult endeavor to imagine a world which depended upon sinless people to tend and care for it.  And imagining a re-created world surging with the glory of God which affords redeemed humanity the dignity of a purposeful, active eternity is even more difficult. Continue reading

Where Pain Is

Last week a massive earthquake destroyed Port Au Prince, Haiti, and this morning another large aftershock shook the already devastated city.  With estimates of 200,000 dead and over 1 million left homeless, the disaster commanded the world’s attention and has generated a lot of coverage.  A lot of news coverage in turn generates a lot of conversation and a lot of people weighing in.  I don’t intend to weigh in here.  I weigh in on problems at my job, on bad tv commercials, on traffic congestion in Atlanta.  On something as tragic and devastating as this Haiti disaster, I don’t weigh in. Continue reading

The Project – Part 2

On either side of the river is the tree of life … and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

In part 1 of The Project, I looked at the “project-ness” of Creation, the somewhat alarming notion that the world was meant to go somewhere before the Fall.  God made a world full of potential  – a transitory kosmos full of exploding stars and volatile elements, untamed earth and nameless creatures.  He set capable stewards in a sacred turf with the charge to master it and then expand.  Imagine where that could have gone.  But the stewards strayed from their glorious task and onto the path of “Self Divorced from God.”  That path has thenceforth fractured humanity, taking what was the noble man and yielding, as one author put it, “two pitiable horrors, a corpse and a ghost.” Continue reading

Thanksgiving

Rockwell Thanksgiving

I’m sitting on a deck right now overlooking a meager acreage of Georgia woodland, its trees half clad in dwindling purples, golds, and reds. The rising sun behind the house is casting a shadow slicing the trees in half with its sharp morning rays. Between the bare trunks and falling foliage is the truest blue sky this season has seen yet. It’s still chilly, and the birds are at a relaxed pace, sounding their thanksgivings. Continue reading

The Project – Part 1

Eden

Take about 10 seconds, close your eyes, and think about the Garden of Eden.

What all did you think about?  A lot of greenery, and maybe some exotic animals?  A few rivers if you remember your Genesis story well?  How long did you last before picturing a snake, a tree, and an apple?  If you’re like me, your imagination usually telescopes past that indeterminate period of time between Creation and The Fall.  Any attempts at imagining the garden are lost pretty quickly in thoughts of not having much to do and being naked.  Though I’m sure the world as God created it was much better than I can imagine, until recently I had never really tried to imagine it.  What was going on?  God created the world and said “good,” but what was that world like, before the fall? Continue reading

Once – I was a writer.

once film

While browsing iTunes the other day, I made a couple impulse buys I’d had on my “To Buy One Day” list.  The winners were Solo Piano by Gonzales (great) and the self-titled album by The Swell Season.  I’m glad I remembered The Swell Season, a unique duet composed of Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, also the stars of the 2006 film Once.  Listening to their album took me back to their movie, which, if you’ve never seen, you should.  The songs are straight-forward, musically instinctual not intellectual.  The instrumentation is simple — a non-imposing acoustic carrying the rhythm, some meager but honest strings for a little orchestration, and very basic piano framing progressions or complementing the melodies sung by Hansard. Continue reading

Undefinable Religianity

Empty Pews A woman named Karen Armstrong was on NPR’s Fresh Air several days ago describing her new book The Case For God. Just going on what I heard from the interview, having not actually read the book, it sounded as though she doesn’t make a case for “God” at all, but for a contemplative and/or ritualistic life that spurs you to love and compassion for mankind. She used the word “religion” a lot. Love and compassion for mankind is one thing –and it’s wonderful–, but she incorrectly equated that with “God,” effectively wrecking the rhetorical structure that allows the word “God” to function. A few days after that I heard Ken Burns on All Things Considered describe how he featured in his new National Parks documentary naturalist John Muir, whose strict Calvinist father beat him as a small child. Carrying the scars of that “oppressive Christianity,” Muir came to explore the American Sierras and was spiritually “liberated,” and he was able to “devise a new faith, based in nature.” Continue reading

What the Helvetica?

art: lauradelean

A while back, I caught a documentary on PBS about the typeface (font) called Helvetica.  My roommate recently rented it, and I got to catch some things I missed the last time I saw it.  You wouldn’t think a documentary about a typeface would be very interesting (and maybe after seeing it for yourself, you still wouldn’t), but I thought it was fascinating.  It focuses on Helvetica, but it’s actually about typography in general and how we as individuals and societies are affected by what we see.  For example, from a designer’s perspective (and apparently from yours and mine, too) the balance of the content of words in an ad and the way those words look makes a world of difference in a consumer’s reaction to the ad.  This is a fundamental principle.  The way Helvetica looks and communicates, and its unprecedented, unmatched presence in ads and on the street over the last 50 years earned it the spotlight in this documentary. Continue reading

Between Sundays

naming the animals

As modern American Christians, we seem to know that we ought to worship.  Whether we’re new to the church or we grew up in it, we’re pretty aware that “worshipping” is part of the Christian life.  We figure that’s mostly accomplished through singing and praying at church.  But since we’re at church a comparatively small amount of time throughout the week, we may wonder if our worship is supposed to go beyond that.  How do we worship outside of church, though?  What does that entail? Continue reading

The Pregnant Forty

Storm_clouds
I just finished reading a book by Eugene Peterson called Under the Unpredictable Plant. In the book, Peterson uses the Jonah story to discuss the vocation of pastoral ministry. He’s really spectacular at drawing meaningful parallels from Jonah’s behavior, psychology, and circumstances to the life of a pastor, and often more broadly, to Christians’ lives. One example is his expounding of the message Jonah was sent to prophesy: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” To the ears not rooted in ancient near-eastern culture, the ears not familiar with biblical prophecy, the ears boastful of hearing what they’ve been fed yet condescending toward what they haven’t – my ears, our ears – to those ears, a prophecy like that sounds like some malevolent Zeusonian lightening bolt kind of hogwash. To the city of Nineveh, we are told, which didn’t have our ears, this prophecy sounded like an alarm. Not sounding the imminent destruction of a city full of innocent people, but a warning meant to steer a wayward ship away from the deadly rocks. Nineveh heard “forty days” and threw the ship hard to starboard… or port. They repented, fasted, and resolved to change their ways because in the declaration “forty days,” they heard “hope.” Continue reading

The Rise of the Ironic Class

This is a nice observational article written by a guy named Brett McCracken, whose blog I follow. It’s entitled “The Rise of the Ironic Class” and kicks a couple of the same rocks my last post kicked, but goes a different direction.

“We’re a generation of cultural paranoia, and we don’t want to be out of the loop on anything….We want to be in on the joke, aware of when we are being duped. Irony is like a self-aware announcement that you know what’s going on and will not be duped.”

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It’s Golden

silence
I used to cut grass a lot. Growing up, it became one of my around-the-house duties, and through high school and college it was a good way to earn cash. I spent many hours pushing a mower around, and it eventually came to be somewhat of a sacred time for me. The simplicity of following lines in the grass and the constant hum of the motor created space in my head for deep thought, creative melody-making, and revelatory prayer. Continue reading

The First Day

sunrise
This is the most paramount time in the liturgical calendar. The season of Lent has led us to Holy Week. Holy Week has overlapped our time with Jesus’ last week of ministry in Jerusalem, bringing us to the night he broke bread, washed feet, and was betrayed, and finally to Friday, the day he was murdered. In order to make present the day, events, and sorrow of Jesus’ execution, Trinity held a Good Friday service with somber songs and scripture readings yesterday. The focal scripture was from the book St. John wrote. His account shows us not only specific events in a place and a time, but also the fulfillment of a story that began…in the beginning. Continue reading

New Church?

advent-banner
I’m a part of a new church plant. Church of the Advent will be an Anglican congregation meeting and working within the city of Atlanta. Though the official “plant” date for the church will be later this year, I and the two other fellas’ who will humbly serve as pastors for the church kicked off our first prayer service last night, along with a small number that had gathered to worship with us. This was the first of what will be the Advent’s Thursday night vespers service, a service for the purpose of praying for Atlanta, for the future of the church’s mission, and for each other as people sharing that mission. Continue reading

On choosing medicine.

Medicine Aisle
I feel like a zombie. I woke up today and realized that I’m sick – for the second time in two months. This is very frustrating. I had to leave work early because I could barely even move for body aches and lethargy. As soon as I got home I crawled in bed and succumbed to the fever sweeping over my body. Closing my eyes tightly to counter the sinus pressure building behind my face, I laid there noticing that my bed and maybe even the floor felt like they were shaking with every intense heart beat. I’m now awake after that initial sleep battle, but the war is not won. Soon there will be another large swig of NyQuil, and a couple more CVS brand cold/flu pills popped. Continue reading

A Bright Mist

golden-mist


The other day on my way to work, I was driving by a small railroad yard that I pass every morning. This particular morning was still cool from the chilly night before, but was being warmed by a quickly rising sun. The familiar location was blanketed by a lingering mist, lit up in a pale gold by the sun rising over the trees. Where I could have normally looked down the distant rail line slowly curving under a bridge was hidden from view by a veil of shimmering cloud. A usually drab and industrial scene was turned into a magical place. It kind of excited what’s left of a childlike imagination in me.

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Lent

Tim Redman-PuddleI’m a big picture kind of person. The reason that thinking in terms of the Grand Narrative of the world is so helpful to me is that it helps me contextualize that which is more immediate – that which is in front of me. I don’t do well with the “why’s?” of what’s in front of me if I don’t have something bigger and prior to which I can appeal. When dealing with issues of devotion, habit, rhythm, and worship, the bigger and prior something to which I appeal is the Church. The Church from its earliest days appealed to the bigger and prior traditions of Temple and Synagogue worship in Israel. With the new guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church also began to practice wise new traditions including gathering corporately to worship every Lord’s Day (Sunday), receiving communion together, and annually celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Continue reading

Confirmation

confirmation
This past Sunday I was confirmed in the Anglican Church during a service at Holy Cross Anglican in Loganville, Ga. Not only was it the first time I had ever been a part of receiving any kind of blessing in the Anglican Church, it was the first time I had ever even seen a Baptism/Confirmation service. My knowledge of the (Anglican) Communion is proportionately much more academic than experiential at this point. I expect that to change, or at least to even out. As of now, what I’ve come to learn both by my own study and from what others have shared with me about this Tradition has driven me to place myself within its wisdom and among its people. That’s why I was confirmed. Continue reading

Story

hu0210615
I’ve come to a point in my life, via many roads merging and intersecting with many ideas and experiences, where I can not only look back over my own journey, but over a sweeping landscape that goes way beyond where I began. It’s a (self) realization that ironically has taken me way past myself. What I’ve realized is the history of the world is massive. If every day this world has seen, every thought, accomplishment, and life of every human being, every town, society, and people group were a raging torrent flowing through the wide channel of time, I am, comparatively, a single cubic inch of water somewhere within it being swept along, completely affected, completely unaffecting. Continue reading