Because We’re Not Good: “East of Eden”, a Book Review


We all have those pieces of art–be they movies, books, music, what have you–that upon first exposure we fall in love. We turn the last page or walk out of the theater or concert hall certain that this will surely be added to our list of favorites and long-held companions. Yet, how many times do we say this and a year or two down the road someone mentions that very piece of art and we find ourselves thinking, “oh yeah, I did read that, didn’t I?” or “I had forgotten how much I loved that album!”

So often we get swept away in the immediate experience of something skipping upon the waters of our soul, leaving little ripples and echoes dancing upon the surface. But these dimples and dapples merely play on the surface for a time, returning once more to their source, leaving the waters ultimately undisturbed in their wake–the liquid plane unbroken; the deepest depths untouched.

There are other times, however, that we encounter a piece of art–or rather, it encounters us–and we are changed. It transcends mere rankings of “favorites” and “Top 10s” and weaves itself into our fibers. We do not critique and assess it, so much as it sizes and weighs us. The surface is broken and we are plunged beneath, staring humanity’s unvarnished truths in the face. And in so doing, our own humanity is actually enlarged, a spaciousness expands in our souls and we feel more human, even as our foundations are shaken.

John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden, is just this kind of piece of art. It’s the kind of book people say they will read “someday”, only to read it and wish “someday” had come a lot sooner. So if you haven’t read it. Do so. Start today.

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Advent Prayers [Mon 12/11/17]


Opening Prayer

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O LORD, make haste to help me!
-from Psalm 70:1

-silence-

The Gloria

Glory be to God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, so it is now,
and so it ever shall be, world without end.
Alleluia- Amen!
-the “Gloria Patri”

Scripture Reading

Isaiah 11:1-5
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

-silence for reflection, meditation-

Prayer

-pray for yourself, your loved ones, friends, enemies, the church, and the world-

Prayer for the Week

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord-
Amen

[From the Liberti Church 2017 Advent + Christmas Prayerbook. Photo by Monica Ayers.]

Advent Reflection by Alyssa Mallgrave [Sun 12/10/17]


A couple of months ago, I went camping alone, totally isolated somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania. Dirt roads, no signal, completely in the dark. I thought it would be a cool spiritual experience – it was not. Instead of the perfect night’s sleep I had hoped for, I laid awake for hours. The sound of every falling leaf reminded me that I was alone, causing my imagination to devise ridiculous scenarios of what I assumed was an inevitable demise at the hands of a bear, a murderer, or some other unlikely adversary. I was terrified, and as soon as morning came, I scrambled back to civilization.

Scripture talks about the wilderness a lot, and this is how I picture it: alienated from society, totally vulnerable, and constantly on edge. But you don’t necessarily need to travel very far for this kind of experience. For some of us, the wilderness is right here in our city, our homes, and our everyday lives. And regardless of where we find it, we all know that this is a world that’s deeply broken and in need of redemption.

Long before Christ was born, God spoke words of comfort to the Israelites through the ancient prophet Isaiah, assuring them that a messiah would one day come to rule and to serve them in a glorified world, where valleys rise high and mountains bow low. But they’d need to get ready – in the wilderness, they’d need to prepare the way for this coming Lord. Continue reading

Advent Reading [Sat 12/9/17]


The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor. But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

-Frederick Buechner, “Salvation Army Santa Claus Clangs His Bell”, from Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas

[From the Liberti Church 2017 Advent + Christmas Prayerbook. Photo by Monica Ayers.]

Advent Reflection by Lauren Clausen [Sun 12/3/17]


When I think about the Advent season this year, I feel a bit overwhelmed. Not only does it mean that there are Christmas presents to buy and wrap, parties to attend, cookies to bake and decorations to put up, but it means that the weather is turning, the light disappearing and the cold creeping in. As the days grow shorter my inclination is to turn inward, to hunker down in the coziness of home and use the chill as an excuse to stay in. And in the midst of this season—this combination of frenzied holiday preparations and cold that makes you want to just hibernate for a bit—we are supposed to spend time contemplating our sin, the darkness of the world, our need for the light of Christ. Sometimes it feels like a lot just to focus on all the trappings that come with Christmas, but we are called to more. We are called to Advent as a time of recognizing that we dwell in darkness until the arrival of the One who set things alight.

Thank goodness for Scripture, which gives word to the realities whose existence we sometimes find it easier to forget. This passage in Isaiah does just that, calling on God to “rend the heavens and come down” because “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” Come down, Lord, here where we are so sinful that even our good deeds are filthy. Come down here where we are selfish. Here where we ignore you, here where we’re mired in sin. Come down here where there is “no one who calls upon your name,” where were find it easier to pretend you don’t exist.
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Karl Barth: Our Freedom, Home, & God’s Directing [QUOTES]


When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….

God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.

On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.

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On Toxic Christian Masculinity [QUOTE]


I know it’s a little long for a quote, but I promise, it’s very worth your time:

Within Christianity, the masculine image of God is often defined in these terms of control, power and dominion. Much of the Christian faith, though, requires that men recognize their limitations and depend on God. We accept salvation through his son and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a faith where the last shall be first (Mk 10:31), marked by a life of service to others….

Consider the definition offered by John Piper: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships” ([Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] Piper and Grudem, 2006, p. 35). It is a definition that emphasizes leading, providing for and protecting women. But it offers no insight on how men relate to one another. Depending on your reading of this definition, it either smacks of male chauvinism or places greater value on women’s needs. No doubt well intentioned, it offers little guidance for men who are already confused, wounded and lost about their masculinity….
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Male Feminist Theology & Sinning Against Women


This is an incredibly hard post to write, but an important one, I think.

A couple of years ago, I started (and never really finished–but I will!) a blog series which outlined a systematic way that as a male, I can incorporate feminist perspectives on theology into the way I think about God and life.

I call it “Male Feminist Theology” because there’s something about truly being a “feminist” that requires having embodied the experience of being a woman–which I have not. (Similarly, I could not call myself a “Black Activist” with any kind of integrity.)

I started this series with a bunch of posts about using feminine language for God. There was a lot of blowback from that, most of it entirely unexpected. I still hold to that belief that God is gender–ful (not gender-less) and so the full range of human language, both masculine and feminine, ought to be applied to God.

And yet, in my actual-lived out spiritual life, this hasn’t seeped into my engagement with God as much as one would expect, considering how strongly I intellectually believe these things. Maybe an occasional substitute of “Mother” for “Father” in the Lord’s prayer or a Creed recitation, but I do it quietly under my breath. Only occasionally do I find myself remembering to pray to God in such terms. My unconscious reflexive depiction of God in my imagination is still fundamentally male. I have to actually exert energy and thought to try and conceive of something different.
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Deep Sin & The Christian Soul


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5.19-21)

As I recently finished a Church Bible Study on the book of Galatians, those verses inevitably caused some discussion.

I mean, we’ve all to some degree engaged in most–if not all–of the items on that list at some point in our lives, right? Even if you’re a Christian.

So what does it mean to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”?

As we discussed it, we arrived at the answer many of us come to if you grew up in the Church: these scary statements only apply to those individuals who have these “works of the flesh” as a pattern of their life to such a degree one might be able to say that the sins have “dominion” over them. That answers it, right?

Not really. Because there are Christians who find themselves in seasons–days, weeks, months, decades, even–where these sins are their practice over time, seasons where these sins have a very real sense of dominion over them and their lives.

And, this isn’t theoretical or theological for me. To be honest, I myself am coming out just such a time.

. . . . . 

I wrote the above words a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve only sunk deeper into the bewilderment of this season I’m coming out of. How does a Christian understand a period of time in which they’re given over so deeply into self-absorption, sin, and hurting of others? I’ve sat on this question, mulling it over, letting it ruminate within me to see what fruit it bore. I’ve wanted to figure out a nice, tidy answer to this post–for the sake of both others and myself.

And alas, I have been found wanting.
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