Advent & Hoping for Peace


Rothko-untitled-2This is the meditation I wrote that appears in today’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

This world is anything but peaceable. Humanity is constant in its injustice and wickedness inflicted upon one another across this world. It makes you wonder if “humane” is a misnomer. And we can’t just blame all of this on free will, either. The natural world rages against us with its own violence with staggering regularity. And all of this hits home the most when it’s those closest to us that suffer under this world with little peace on hand.

We look at all of this and ask that oldest of questions: “Why?” But when we open the pages of Scripture, we don’t find answers to this seemingly core thread running through our existence. The God of the Bible seems far more concerned with answering “what” questions than “why” questions–what is the nature of reality? what is the problem with the world? what is the solution?

But there is good news for all of us that struggle against the violence of this world: Advent.

In Advent, God does not merely see our why‘s and disregard them as silly and human; he does not simply leave us to our own to wrestle and struggle and doubt. He doesn’t answer our whys. He simply looks at us and the world with compassion, acknowledges to us the way things are, and rolls up his sleeves to address it.
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Catholics Aren’t Crazy: On Praying to Saints (Happy All Saints’ Day!)


catherine-siena-saint-paul-necklaceThis is a post in an on-going series called Catholic Aren’t Crazy exploring misconceptions Protestants have about Catholicism and lessons we can learn from them.

UPDATE: I responded to some critiques and gave some clarifications.

UPDATE II: Here’s the story of the Saint I pray to, Catherine of Siena.

Yesterday was Halloween. That makes today All Saints’ Day (read more about the history of these holidays in yesterday’s post).

All Saint’s Day has taken on different meanings for different groups of Christians. What seems to stay consistent, though, is that it is a celebration of the victory attained by those faithful Christians who have died. They are no longer pilgrims, as we are, but are the triumphant ones, having finished their race well and been brought into their peace with God. We celebrate Christ’s effectual victory over sin and death and that this has been granted to those that have gone before us.

The hope and encouragement in this holiday is not simply that we “remember” these saints, or meditate on their example. Instead (and this is important), there has been a long-held belief in the Christian Church that we still have a mystical communion and relationship with those saints that have already died. When Christians throughout Church history (and the Bible) have referred to “The Church”, they don’t simply mean those still around today, but all the saints who have ever lived (even in the Old Testament!). We are all the Church.

So we can truly celebrate those that have gone before us because we are truly still connected to them in a very real and vibrant way.
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A Christian Pacifist’s Lament for Syria, with help from Quakers


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{summary: Though I consider myself a pacifist and consider force as something that goes against the Kingdom of God, I feel that governments, because they are not the Kingdom of God will always fall short of that and have a necessary level of sin in them. And so, for the sake of a greater good, I would not speak against my government using military action in Syria (though I wouldn’t say I’d explicitly “endorse” it).}

As many people have been doing, I have been snarkily criticizing President Obama’s pursuit of making an attack on Syria. It seems too pointless, too risky, too naivetoo counter-productive, and too lonely. I had felt sadness over the plight of Syrians, but while the rebel forces are over-run by Islamic radicals and terrorist groups, I haven’t thought that empowering, arming, or making their victory certain was better in the long-run. (If you need a refresher on the details of the Syria situation, this is a great one.)
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Some random, contradictory thoughts on Hell. Discuss.


Rothko-untitled-2Below, you’ll find a random assortment of 30 completely disjointed musings on Hell. Each paragraph is its own statement, in no particular order. This is not meant to be a discussion of where I currently land on this issue. I’d love to just get your thoughts. Respond as you like, below.

(1) In the past 10 to 15 years, the American Church saw a new emphasis on Idolatry as the foundation of sinfulness, rather than “Law-breaking”. I’m starting to see a new re-emphasis on Law-Breaking and Hell as punishment for this. And yet, the “Law” is always connected to God’s Image and Character, and so Law-Breaking is living by a wrong law, or image, and therefore is idolatry. We have an analogy for how a Judge responds to breaking the law, and this leads to the popular view of Hell since Medieval times. But what is the analogy for the response to transgressing an image?

(2) Can any Universalist tell me what the point of missions or Evangelism is in this life, if their perspective is true?
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“Simplistic Atheism: a final response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]


de Goya-fight with cudgels"

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Well, it seems that we were not in fact done with this little series. After my final post, Daniel chose to take me up on my offer to have the final word (as I normally try to do in exchanges like this). He has chosen to respond, point-by-point, to my list of what things would lead me to embrace Atheism. If you feel like any of the points still demand a reply from me, or if you have any questions about what Daniel says, feel free to to comment here, on Facebook, or get in touch with me privately. For my part, though, I consider this particular set of exchanges finished. Once again, I thank Daniel for this exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Paul,

When I initially decided to compile a list of criteria that would convince me my conclusion on the question of theism was wrong, I had sincere hope that a Christian, Muslim or other person of faith would tally up a corresponding register. I am glad to see you rose to the challenge and enrolled in this dialogue. It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and I do hope that sentiment is mutual.

I read your piece the day it was posted and while at first I found much of it persuasive, the more I reflected the more I realized it was probably the list I would have drafted two years ago, before I renounced my faith. Much of your criteria seems to rest firmly on the aesthetic appeal of the Christian narrative. And this would seem to slot right in line with your epistemological moorings-a concern for the communal connection, compelling force and overall mesmerism of a worldview over against its underlying facticity.

Yet it seems this only holds true up to a certain threshold, given a few of the items on your list. You seem to be OK with affirming the faith given its impact on your life, the power of influence you’ve seen it have on history, and the way it has shaped others with which you’ve crossed paths. But if you were to discover beyond reasonable doubt that this narrative was based on so much myth, that this loosely corroborated Yeshua the gospels are based on was a mere mortal (item #1), you would relinquish the faith forthwith.

Thus it seems to me that our epistemic divergence is one of degree, not of type. With that in mind, I’ll attach some brief notes beside the items in your list. Continue reading

Simplistic Atheism {4}: What could make me an Atheist?


paul-schrott-painting-11-11

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

In this series of exchanges with my friend Daniel, I’ve tried to argue that his Facebook post on why he is an Atheist expressed an overall view of the world that is too small and too simplistic. I think this is because of his empiricist method and materialist conclusion about reality–that all there is is what we can see, touch, feel, etc.

Some concluding remarks

My whole point has not simply been that Daniel’s facts or even his method is wrong. But rather, it finds its proper place, meaning, fullness, and possibility within the Christian view of reality. I have argued in each of my posts that Christianity does not “refute” reason, science, history, skepticism, textual messiness, historical difficulty, or even doubt. Instead, the Gospel encompasses it all, and each of those things find a greater fulfillment in their use, cohesion in the whole of the world, and reality within that place.

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Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small


de-Goya-Sleep-Reason-produces-monsters

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Last week a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian posted a well thought-out catalog of the reasons why he is an Atheist (let me know if the link doesn’t work). This list includes items that don’t usually pop up in similar offerings, and I encourage every Christian to read this list and wrestle through the realities of what he says.

As I thought about it, though, and thought through how I would respond to some of these things, I found a consistent theme to what I would critique to each of his points: over-simplicity. In this series of posts, rather than going through each of the writer’s twenty points, I’d like to go through some broader ideas he touches on, and offer my thoughts.

By the time I was done writing everything up, I had at least four parts to this response. Today, we’ll briefly talk about how Daniel’s post represents an over-simplifying of human reason and spirituality..
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Listen to the Hurting {ii}: how now shall we suffer?


Rothko-untitled-2Yesterday I wrote about how our offense and struggle with evil and suffering in the world is often detached from the feelings and words of those that actually endure much of it. I said that intense Suffering doesn’t seem to produce an extinguishing of faith to those that experience it.

People have often said that the deep suffering and injustice of the world is one thing that led them to Atheism or skepticism, but this seems to be more the case for those that observe and think about the idea of suffering, more than enduring it themselves. Yes, there are stories of those that lose their faith in the midst of their suffering, but they really are so few and far between.

This is one of the main themes of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The most powerful argument for Atheism I’ve ever read is in the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter. After reading it, I was so deeply shaken for a few weeks after. And it was written by a Christian.

One of the central themes of the book is that Atheism is an absolutely logical and reasonable system, but not one that can be consistently lived out. When observing the world and its injustice intellectually and from a top-down perspective, Atheism is probably more easily sensible than Christianity. But, as the book goes on to show, no matter the philosophical veracity of Atheism, no one can truly live real, actual human life as a fully-consistent Atheist and flourish as a human, in human relationships, and in human society.

Even if people think about suffering Atheistically, people usually live in the midst of it religiously.
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Listen to the Hurting {i}: why Suffering is a silly reason to be an Atheist


Adolph Gottlieb-rolling

Update: Part 2 is up.

In the religious circles I walk in, I hear about injustice and suffering quite a bit. Theology friends constantly muse about how to view these things in light of biblical revelation. Atheist and skeptic friends constantly point to these things as the inherent illogical inconsistencies that undermine religious faith.

And caught in the middle are many, many more friends, who live their lives trying to navigate their jobs, families, and relationships the best they can–all while these questions haunt them in their quieter moments or right before they sleep. Unlike the other two groups above, they don’t feel like they have answers. And this can lead to periods of doubt, insecurity, and frustration.

For every group, though, questions abound in these conversations. Oftentimes, they have a religious flavor. Why does this stuff happen? How does this relate to the goodness of God? What does it mean for the reality of God? How is God just when this stuff is real? Why does God seem absent?

And yet…

These are almost never the questions I hear from the people actually going through the suffering.
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When easy & simplistic proof-texting trumps the nuance & complexity of wrestling pastorally with the text


On Tumblr, a very, very dear friend posted this earlier, in support of the Doctrine of Double Predestination, which says that in eternity past, God predestined not only who would be saved (apart from their own works), but also those who would not be saved (apart from their own works):

“They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” 1 Peter 2:8

Double predestination

#it’s biblical

In one of the most widely used Bible commentaries in existence, I found these words written about this verse, starting with commenting on the word “also” (which isn’t found in my friend’s translation of the verse). I’ve changed some formatting and some grammar to make it easier to understand. Enjoy:

“also” [as in “as they were also destined to do”;  this is in the Greek, though Revelation 19’s translation doesn’t have this]—[this is] an additional thought; God’s ordination; not that God ordains or appoints them to sin, but they are given up to “the fruit of their own ways” according to the eternal counsel of God. The moral ordering of the world is altogether of God. God appoints the ungodly to be given up unto sin, and a reprobate mind, and its necessary penalty.

The phrase “Were appointed,” (Greek, “set,”) is an answer to the “I lay,” (Greek, “set,”) found in 1Pe 2:6.

God, in the active, is said to appoint Christ and the elect (directly). Unbelievers, in the passive, are said to be appointed (God acting less directly in the appointment of the sinner’s awful course) [Bengel]. God ordains the wicked to punishment, not to crime [J. Cappel].

“Appointed” or “set” (not here “FORE-ordained”) refers, not to the eternal counsel so directly, as to the penal justice of God. Through the same Christ whom sinners rejected, they shall be rejected; unlike believers, they are by God appointed unto wrath as fitted for it.

***The lost shall lay all the blame of their ruin on their own sinful perversity, not on God’s decree; the saved shall ascribe all the merit of their salvation to God’s electing love and grace.***

(from the “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible)

What are your thoughts on this issue? How important do you think it is in the grand scheme of the Gospel?

Diving into Death


books-death

It’s always difficult to talk about one’s own fear of one’s own death. It usually comes across as a little melodramatic and seems to carry with it the appearance that somehow your fear of your death is somehow felt more deeply, analyzed more fully, or experienced more truly.

In short, when people start whining about their fear of death. It can be annoying. I acknowledge this. And yet, here I am, telling you all that I am really, really scared of death.

When I mention this to people that know me as the guy who writes a lot about faith and seems to believe these things pretty deeply, people are (for some reason) shocked to hear me explain just how deep my fear of death goes. I know it’s not logical, but I somehow find the past works of God more easily believable than the future acts of God. I know you can’t have one without the other, but the human heart is a storm of contradiction and paradox.

And for some reason, Death has occupied my thoughts of late. Sure, I’ve wrestle with it’s reality, thought through it’s theological origin, seen it in the faces of the hurting, wrote about how to live in spite of it, and even engaged it in poetry and in song, but something has really captured me recently. I’ve been sitting in the presence of this fear.
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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconToday in the Christian church calendar is Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.” (You can read a prayer and poem I posted earlier for this Holy Day)

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
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Trickle-Up Resurrection (Guatemala Lessons)


Rothko-easterMy church is currently in a series called “Resurrection Stories” in which we’re going through each of the non-Jesus stories of resurrections (or “resuscitations”—whatever) found in the Bible. It is, after all, still Easter.

A few weeks ago, as we were talking about Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son, our pastor pointed out that most of these resurrection stories seem to center more on the people around the dead person than the dead person themselves. And so, in a sense, these resurrections are more for the people affected by death than the one dead; the ones that “receive” the true resurrection power are mostly those around the resurrected one.

Further, as he pointed out, most all of these people that “receive” the truest benefits of these resurrections are women—the most alienated and disempowered group throughout world history.
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Death & Dignity: what’s the point?


philly-life-wall

Next week I head to Guatemala for the Lemonade International Blogger’s Trip. Having been introduced to this organization, I’ve been following their blog closely, trying to get to know them more and more.

A couple of days ago, they posted about a tragic loss. A member of their school, Herber Giovanni Sandoval, died a couple of days ago at the age of 17. In the conclusion of their post, they said this:

“We are especially grateful to the youth group at Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, NC for sponsoring him while he was still attending the Limón Academy.”

I immediately had the image of the youth group kids or sunday school class at that church who probably spent years following the story of Herber. I wondered how they would feel and respond to this news. How would the leaders help them process this? Would it impact the kids at all or would they be too removed from it?
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It’s Still Easter: a Theology of Color [photo sermon]


philly-tree-pink-spring

This week’s WordPress Photo theme is “Color“. Rather than simply writing about different pictures I’ve taken, I’m instead trying to write “photo sermons” based on these topics. In these posts, I want to try and use the photo itself as my “text”–trying to see how God reveals himself in his “other” book, in addition to the Bible.

In our last photo sermon, I talked about how I love that Easter comes around Spring time and so the natural world beautifully reflects the spiritual truth being celebrated. Also in line with this truth is the fact that Easter–just like Spring–is not just one day–it’s an entire season in the Church calendar.

It takes time for beauty and truth to get into and blossom within our souls. It takes preparation and anticipation for the roots of our hearts to quicken like the trees around us–to feel life coursing in them once more.

This is beautiful. And it doesn’t need to be this way.
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