[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball



Renee' gave up TV for Lent, which pretty much means I gave up TV, too. But I sneak enough minutes during the day, and I listen to enough podcasts, read enough papers to know that the #1 story on the news is, as it has been for some time now, the "Crisis in the American economy." A mortgage crisis; failing banks; businesses bleeding money; round after round of layoffs; modern-day shanty towns springing up from California to Georgia.

It's crisis time, and people are ticked off.

Fr. Davenport's sermon on Sunday (not up here yet, but it will be soon) talked about the justified anger against the "Masters of the Universe" financial guys who bear a large part of the responsibility for this crisis. He confessed to secretly (turns out it won't stay a secret long after you preach about it) wanting to see them paraded in shame wearing manacles and riding bulls from Wall Street to Central Park, a perp walk complete with jesters, floats and balloons. Or, he'd settle for some of them going to jail. I can't even begin to understand the complexities of the economics involved, but I'll admit I'd like to see some get-back too. I'd like to have some justice; let's have some righteousness raining down over here, thank you very much.

But what are our options, justice-wise, in this crisis?

Off the top of my head, it seems the first option is that nothing happens. No justice @ all, not even a head fake to it. Simply let people walk scot free. Some would say that's the Christian thing to do, right? WWJD and all that? But that's viscerally unsatisfying because it's not fair. No matter how much we believe God = Love, that kind of emphasis on mercy and glossing over wrongdoing offends our sense of justice, so let's ditch that option. The second option is @ least some kind of justice now. Mete something out to somebody -- jail terms, restitution, stoning, the dunking stool, whatever. Get medieval. But the problem is that lots of people (especially rich people) don't get their just desserts in this life, so that's unsatisfying, too. So a third option: Justice not in this life, but in the next one. This is how it goes: The Madoffs of the world die some day, the first sound they hear after it goes dark is the "doink doink" that signals that Law and Order is coming on, and they find themselves 'cuffed up and in a courtroom. God gavels the proceedings to order, hears evidence about greed and Ponzi schemes and fraudulent derivatives (of course, an expert economist would give testimony here b/c probably not even God understands how derivatives work), renders a guilty verdict and sentences the defendants to a gazillion years in Purgatory. But there's a problem w/ that option, too -- If those guys get justice, I should expect to get it, too. And I'm just as culpable, only to a different degree. I haven't bilked investors of billions of dollars, but I've been a user. I've gotten over. I've lied, cheated, stolen, hated. So, if they're screwed, I'm screwed.

But my hope is that there's another option. It's an option w/ justice (God's holiness cannot allow sin, whether it's mine or Bernie Madoff's, to go unpunished), but it's merciful, too. It's an option rooted in "crisis," or, more accurately, it's rooted in "krisis," the Greek term John uses to record Jesus' words just hours before his arrest, trial and lynching. Jesus tells his friends: "Now is the judgment (krisis) of this world; now the ruler of this world be cast out." (John 12.31) There was a time when justice and mercy met. In the "now" of Jesus' death, the sins of the world were judged, and the punishment was meted out on God himself.

It's really the only option that satisfies. And, ultimately, it's the only one that can free my soul from bitterness and hatred toward Fr. Davenport's Masters of the Universe because, when I see the justice of the cross and understand my own implication in it, in short, when I see grace, it drives me to mercy. Instead of being driven by lust for vengeance and comeuppance, we can start to feel something of the mercy that Tim Keller describes as "the spontaneous, superabounding love which comes from an experience of the grace of God, [and t]he deeper the experience of the free grace of God, the more generous we must become." (Ministries of Mercy, p. 63.)


Slack-jawed again

On the plane to California (Virgin America rocks, btw) I watched 3 TED Talks, all of which were just great. If I could talk the way those guys talk, I'd be a better preacher, I can tell you that. In one talk, ocean explorer Robert Ballard shared his obvious enthusiasm for exploration and his goal to infect kids w/ that same enthusiasm. What caught my attention was the look on the face of this girl @ 17:10 of the talk. Ballard says of her: "When you get a jaw drop you can inform."

Indeed. And the same thing should work for enthusiasm about Jesus, should it not? If people (and by "people," I mean pretty much "me") heard the gospel and got that slack-jawed look, seems like they'd be hungry to know who Jesus is, what God is doing in history, how the redemption of creation in general can sweep me and my neighborhood up in particular.

Anyway, I had been thinking about that look off and on for a few days, and when I couldn't sleep last night after the 4.5 hour flight back to DC, I flipped through Donald Miller's Jazz Notes, which a friend had loaned me. Miller writes about his friend, Alan, who went around the U.S. asking questions of religious leaders. This time, it was the following anecdote that caught my attention:
It all sounded boring except for one visit he made to a man named Bill Bright, the president of a big ministry. Alan said Bill was a big man, full of life, who listened without shifting his eyes. Alan asked a few questions, closing with "What does Jesus mean to you?"

Bill Bright could not answer this question. He just started to cry. He sat there in his big chair at his big desk and wept.

When Alan told this story, I wondered what it was like to love Jesus that way. And I wondered, quite honestly, if Dr. Bright was nuts, or if he really knew Jesus in a personal way, so well that he could cry at the mere mention of his name. I realized that I wanted to know Jesus like that. With my heart, not just my head. I felt like that would be the key to something. (p. 118-19.)
Then I had two images in my head: A middle-school girl awed @ seeing something for the first time, and a grown man reduced to tears @ the mention of a name he'd heard a million times. Somehow they're linked in my brain now. I suspect if I could just get an inkling of the depth of the love of God, if Jesus would "happen to" me like that, I'd get slack-jawed again. And I'd hope the inevitable result would be a swelling of the heart something like Bill must've had. And heart-swelling love like that drives a body to do strange things, feats out of the ordinary, cross-taking-up and loving-thy-neighbor and whatnot.

I don't know that, mind you. But I suspect it.


Paul Soupiset's Lentblog 2007

Been so busy the past few days that I've had no time to think of posting anything, just to work, be a family man, pray when I can. I remember two Lents ago I was just as busy, but every day I looked forward to opening my laptop and clicking over to the next entry in the "Lentblog" of Paul Soupiset. In fact, Paul's the reason I carry an extra Moleskine and a small set of Faber-Castell water-colours in my bookbag, although I never get to use them (I do have some things I painted when I was on my pre-ordination retreat -- likely the last time I'll ever have blocks of hours when I have nothing to do but pray, think and paint -- that I'll never, ever show you).

Right-brained, left-brained, whatever you are, whatever moves you -- If you're busy this Lent, too busy to pray much or to make it to mass even, you should click through those old sketches. Time well spent.



My friend Robert asked me to jot down a "Top Ten" list of books I would recommend, and it's taken me over a week to actually try my hand @ the task. I think I wanted to make a definitive list, which appears to be impossible, but here's the first draft I sent him. I based my categories on a list I copied years ago from Terry Glaspey's Great Books of the Christian Tradition, and have carried in my bible ever since, not even bothering to read some of the books Glaspey listed (far too much time required to blog about books I think other people should read, I assure you). I tried to limit myself to ten authors (some w/ more than 1 title listed).

Books Every Christian Should Know
  1. Confessions and City of God, St. Augustine
  2. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a'Kempis
  3. The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
  4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  5. Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
  6. Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
  7. The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  8. The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright
  9. Christian Proficiency, Martin Thornton
  10. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl
Books Which Help Develop a Christian Worldview (assuming you believe there's such a thing as a "Christian worldview" -- please don't send me emails about this)
  1. For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann
  2. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin
  3. The Urban Christian or A Theology as Big as the City, Ray Bakke
  4. Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton, or Creed or Chaos, Dorothy Sayers
  5. Knowing God, J. I. Packer
  6. The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis
  7. Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley
  8. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, David Wells
  9. Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, Kevin J. Vanhoozer
  10. The Reason for God and Ministries of Mercy, Timothy Keller
Books I Can't Imagine Not Recommending to Anyone and Everyone I Know
  1. The Prodigal God, Timothy keller
  2. The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, or Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott
  3. Brother to a Dragonfly, Will Campbell
  4. Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
  5. The Liturgy Explained and On Being Catholic, Thomas Howard
  6. The Rule of St. Benedict
  7. The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard
  8. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
  9. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
  10. Any page of Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth
So, there. A nice distraction during a busy day. Please feel free to admonish, mock and berate me, but please add your own suggestions to the list.

Oh, and the tweeting has already begun w/ Nate weighing in: Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott.


Via crucis

"[W]e must submit to change if we would be formed into this cruciform faith. We may come singing 'Just as I am,' but we will not stay by being our same old selves. The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed, unless conversion of life and morals becomes our pattern. The status quo is too alluring. It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the six-thirty news, our institutions, theologies and politics. The only way we shall break its hold on us is to be transferred to another dominion, to be cut loose from our old certainties, to be thrust under the flood and then pulled forth fresh and new-born. Baptism takes us there."

William Willimon, "Repent," in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Farmington, Pa.: Plough, 2003): 9-10.

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Thoughts from Azi's Cafe

A deep dread of opening up my laptop this morning (sermon prep for Sunday is already behind schedule) took me to Azi's Cafe for M/P and caffeine instead of directly to my office. It was there that I read the epistle for today, part of which reads:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3.12-13)
So, it occurs to me to ask, seeing as how it's Lent and all: If I'm struggling to sustain effort toward forming Christlike character (and I am, and so are you, so don't say you're not), what is it that I don't believe, and what deceit is it that I do believe instead? For the "deceitfulness of sin" part, these jump readily to mind:
  • "I'll make you reeeeally happy"
  • "Who're you kidding? You can't really ever get free from me; you know that, right?"
  • "C'mon, just this one time . . . ."
  • "Look, my ultimate agenda is not to kill you. I swear. I don't know where you got that idea from."
And what is it that I don't believe, @ least not deeply enough? The gospel. God loves me. He loves me when I'm good; he loves me when I'm not so good. Jesus died for us when we were still rebels, and dead rebels @ that. Somebody, I don't remember who, said to me once that Luther carved into his desk (monks have desks?) these words: "I am baptized." Well, so am I. And being baptized, being in Christ, means I've been born of water and the Spirit, born from above, from outside myself, and I've been given to see the kingdom of God all around me. Part of life in that kingdom is sanctification, progressively getting free from the sin that so easily entangles. I know I can see that from here; I just need to keep walking in that direction.

Somebody exhort me, would you?


If @ first you don't succeed . . .

I told our community group in an email today that, a week into Lent, I've already renegotiated a little w/ God, had some slippage, gotten back on the horse, and find myself most days alternately optimistic and just barely hanging on by my teeth. I'm drawn again and again to a passage from a book Fr. Conner recommended I read a couple of years ago.
No progress in Christian life is possible, alas, without the bitter experience of failures. Too many people start fasting with enthusiasm and give up after the first failure. I would say that it is at this first failure that the real test comes. If after having failed and surrendered to our appetites and passions we start all over again and do not give up no matter how many times we fail, sooner or later our fasting will bear its spiritual fruits. Between holiness and disenchanted cynicism lies the great and divine virtue of patience -- patience, first of all with ourselves. There is no short-cut to holiness; for every step we have to pay the full price. Thus it is better and safer to begin at a minimum -- just slightly above our natural possibilities -- and to increase our effort little by little, than to try jumping too high at the beginning and to break a few bones when falling back to earth.
Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's, 1969): 98-99.

Policy shift

I've noticed lots of my pastor/priest friends maintain their blogs pretty regularly, so it occurs to me that I should give this another shot. I should make clear @ the outset that the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily the opinions of Ascension & St. Agnes parish, the Episcopal Church, the Worldwide Anglican Communion, my wife, my father or the Boston Red Sox.
WWW [rough draft]