Living Like Patrick Beyond St. Patrick’s Day

Unknown-1Last Wednesday and last Sunday, I shared with my church a little of the story of St. Patrick. It’s a fascinating story; Patrick: kidnapped and sold as a slave in Ireland, learned Celtic language and culture, escaped, but was called by God to return and preach Christ among the Irish Celts. After Patrick’s death, a number of factors lead to Celtic Christianity developing largely independently from Christianity found in England or mainland Europe.

The Celtic brand of Christianity still exists among a few communities but their way of life and their expression of Christianity can teach us some lessons in having a more vibrant faith.

First, they made a conscious effort to integrate faith into every area of life. Celtic Christians wrote prayers for almost every aspect of life: beginning of the day, end of the day, cooking and working. They wrote prayers for marriage, children, blessing a new home, and for dying. These prayers are often called “contemplative,” and are “an ongoing, or very frequent, opening of the heart to the Triune God, often while engaging in each of the many experiences that fill a day” (Hunter, III).

Our lives tend to be segmented and compartmentalized. We have our spiritual life, sure, but we also have our work life, our home life, and our social life. Contemplative prayer helps us see that all of life is connected and all of life can be influenced and influence our spiritual life.

Second, and in a similar vein, was the formation of the monastic communities. Throughout Europe, monasteries were a common place for the ultra-religious to go to escape from the world. They were located outside of cities, on mountains, or off the beaten path. In Ireland, Christians built communities that were  monastic (people living under a religious vow). They were little towns with monks, nuns and priests but also families, farmers, carpenters, herders and craftsman. Again it showed how they saw all of life integrated, with no “religious” and “secular” differentiation.

Third, Celtic Christians naturally saw God within nature. The clover, held by Patrick in many pictures, was used to explain the mysterious nature of the Trinity. As a culture centered around farming, herding and fishing it is understandable that the forces of nature would play a large role in their lives and when they learned of the God who created and controls the forces of nature, it was easy to see God’s hand in it. Again, not even nature is outside of our normal lives- although many of us have tried to eliminate hot, cold, rain and wind from our lives. We can see God in the sunshine and rain, we can hear God in the call of the birds and we can use what God has made to understand God better.

The constant theme of each of these Celtic Christian expressions of faith is the way that they integrate faith into everyday life. That is something we can all be reminded of in our lives. It’s been 1,585 years since Patrick took Christianity to Ireland but we can still learn from their example.

 

Sources:

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again. George G. Hunter, III. Abington Press, 2000.

Celtic Daily Prayer. Harper One, 2002.

 

Talking With God: Not deep but still refreshing

9781601429445Sometimes praying is hard. If prayer wasn’t hard, then some of our greatest theologians, scholars and pastors wouldn’t have spent the time and energy writing books about prayer. In his book Talking with God: What To Say When You Don’t Know How To Pray, Adam Weber adds his voice to many others on the subject of prayer. Weber is the lead pastor of Embrace, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Weber writes a book that feels personal, even though it’s story-filled and light on in-depth teaching. Talking with God is theologically sound but basic. There is nothing earth-shaking in the book and, in a way, that’s refreshing. Weber doesn’t project to know a way to pray that “changes everything” or a “new” method of prayer, what he brings are simple ideas about prayer. They are ideas that the reader can put into practice no matter how long they have been a believer. This book is not for someone looking for an in-depth study on prayer, however, this book is a good introduction on prayer for a non-Christian, a new Christian or a student. But it does have good reminders on what it means to pray and how we can pray within the different circumstance in which we find ourselves.

Overall, it was a pleasant read and it is one that I’ll keep in order to pass along to someone looking for an introduction to prayer.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review.

 

 

 

Top 5 Thoughts from “Growing Young”

unknown-2I just finished the latest book from the Fuller Youth Institute entitled, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin put together a helpful and practical book and here I want to share the top 5 thoughts that I took away from the book.

(For simplicity sake, they are in chronological order.)

  1. “…no major Christian tradition is growing in the US today” (16). For those of us who keep up to date with the latest polls and trends in religion, this is not a new or a surprising fact, however, it reiterates the great need and urgency that the church has to influence this generation of young people. Those who self-identity as Christians have shrunk, those who are religiously unaffiliated have grown and the largest single population in America is yearning for direction and purpose- will they be able to find it in the gospel of Jesus and the church?
  2. “People are our heart; Jesus is our message” (129). This phrase was the mantra of one church interviewed in research for the book. If the world understood, if Christians understood, that this phrase effectively sums up the way that we should see and engage the world, we would begin to see change happen in the world. Many of the misconceptions of Christianity and many of the conflicts churches face would be immediately fixed if we held to a “people are our heart; Jesus is our message” mantra.
  3. “…it’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith. It’s silence” (157). If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you already know that I am a big fan of doubt, questions and looking at things from a new perspective. Thinking critically about matters of faith doesn’t cause a person to throw that faith away, it proves that faith can stand up under the concerns of the real world. The Fuller Youth Institute has the research to back up this claim: “According to our Sticky Faith research, 7 out of 10 high school student harbor significant doubts about God and faith…One of the factors that determines their faith development is if they have opportunities to express and explore doubts. When they do have those opportunities, doubt is actually correlated with greater faith maturity” (emphasis mine, 157). Reaching young people means making place for doubts and questions.
  4. “First relationship, then formation. First belonging, then belief” (171). “For teenagers and emerging adults, depth of relationship opens the door to deeper exploration of belief” (171). As a church, our first job isn’t doctrine or theology, it’s being a place that’s welcoming and warm. In fact “warmth” is what 1 out of 3 people said described their church (168). Promoting warmth, family and community is not a secondary pursuit, it must be primary.
  5. “When we posture our work in the redemptive narrative of Jesus, good deeds are repositioned within Good News” (240). This gets to the yearning for direction and purpose that is found in all people but especially in young people and young adults. They want to see the world changed for the better and when we show them that desire matches the message of Jesus, they begin to see Jesus and the church of Jesus in a new way.

There are many other get takeaways from this book, along with practical ways to implement their suggestions. I recommend this book and hopefully these 5 thoughts give you incentive to dig into the book for yourself.

Bibliography:

Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.

Christians can’t add to the “believe me” culture

unknown-1By now we all know the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Whether you’re on the right or left, Republican or Democrat, American or a citizen of another country, Christian or another religion or no religion, there must be concern about the increasingly subjective nature of truth. When facts, evidence, logic, and cause and effect are set aside and replaced with “believe me,” we must be skeptical of the one who is asking for our blind trust. We wouldn’t get on a bicycle outfitted with wings and just believe if someone told us that it could fly. Facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect tell us that a bicycle, although outfitted with wings, cannot fly, no matter how much someone tells us to believe that it can.

I could be talking only about politics but the same is true in our churches. Our churches cannot be places where facts, evidence, logic and cause and effect are set aside for a “believe me” stance. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, we cannot proclaim biblical truth, gospel truth, as a “just believe me” kind of truth. We have to value our integrity and the integrity of the message we proclaim better than that.

A 2013 study by Gallop showed that trust that American have in their pastors, ministers and clergy has plummeted in recent years. In the study only 47% of Americans gave clergy a “very high” or “high” rating on honesty and ethics;  that number has dropped from 67% in 1985. That number was even lower for those ages 18-34, with only 34% rating clergy “very high” or “high” in honesty and ethics. In an already skeptical generation, 7 out of 10 do not see pastors and ministers as honest or ethical. We have much work to do here.  There have been enough politicians who have lied, corporate CEOs who have stolen and pastors who have fallen to make the most trusting person cynical and skeptical. As Christians, not just clergy, we have to commit to living honest and ethical lives. This isn’t following moral rules for morality’s sake but so that in a world that appears unreliable, we must stand out as reliable, truthful and trust worthy.

As I am now preparing sermons each week, I am more aware than ever of the need to be deliberate in showing that, while the message of Jesus takes faith, it is not a faith devoid from facts, evidence and logic. It is a far different thing to show that the message of Jesus is true rather than just saying that the message of Jesus is true. I may not get it right all the time, but I hope that I am at least aware and thinking about it. Showing the message of Jesus to be true begins with a life lived true to the message of Jesus from the inside- out, showing how it connects to every area of life, how the truths of scripture match our observations of reality and not just saying  “believe me.”

(And here I’ll quote my sources in order to be honest and ethical: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/december/seven-people-americans-trust-more-pastor-gallup-honesty.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/trust-in-clergy-gallup-poll_n_4468205.html)

Today’s World: One size fits all doesn’t apply

If there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that we can’t agree upon anything. Take hamburgers for example. How many ways can there be to put a patty of ground beef between two pieces of bread? Yet we have McDonalds, Burger King, Whataburger, Five Guys, In and Out, Carl Jrs and Wendy’s- just to name a few- and then there are the people who (for whatever reason) choose not to eat meat, so we have to include veggie-burgers too. Suddenly, a patty of ground beef (or soy) between two pieces of bread just got very complicated.

If hamburgers are a multi-layered, not to mention regionally influences issue (Whataburger in Texas, In and Out on the West coast), why do we think that issues effecting the nation and world have simple, black-and-white resolutions? Why do we think that “one size fits all” when it comes to complicated and far-reaching issues?

As a person who sees himself as a moderate on almost every spectrum (religiously, politically, socially), I find it extremely hard in today’s environment to boldly put my opinion into one single camp. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t listen, read and try to understand the issues- it’s because I have and I do. It seems to me that it is just as naive to not know anything about the issues we face as it is to believe that there is a simple, one-off solution to those issues. We simply cannot continue to believe that single solutions fix multi-faceted problems. However, it appears that the only solutions given are the two extremes on any issue (either everyone has to eat veggie-burgers or everyone has to eat Burger King). This only feeds into the divide. Everything has to be all one way or all another and those with an opinion different than our become the enemy. This is not to say that we don’t hold our preference, but we choose to understand why someone might hold the opposite preference. And we choose to engage in the art of…gasp…compromise.

Compromise has been beaten up and left for dead recently. To compromise, in our world, means that we have given up on our convictions. We have surrendered. We have given in. The response (and the anti-thesis) to compromise has become the “double-down.” When presented with an alternative opinion, view, perspective or preference, instead of intelligently debating the similarities and differences in order to come to a compromised solution, we simply repeat our previous position louder and with more ferocity.

On every spectrum the left goes further left and the right goes further right, what is going to happen to the vacuum created in the middle? It will either be filled by those displaced from the far left and the far right or the extremes will tear the whole continuum apart.

What makes me particularly concerned is that it also seems like the two pillars of Christian social-gospel (for lack of a better phrase) are equally susceptible to the current climate of providing simple solutions to multi-faceted problems. For centuries Christians have held on to love and life as nonnegotiable when it comes to the social-gospel (social-gospel meaning the way that the message of Jesus interacts with social issues, economic issues, government issues, justice issues, etc).

These two pillars, love and life, are both firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second is like (equal) to it, love your neighbor as yourself. Then the story that Jesus tells immediately following that statement (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus links love and life together. In the story, love of neighbor takes the form of protecting life. Couple that with the Bible’s repeated calls to care for widows, orphans and strangers- it is a natural next step to see early Christians, as well as modern Christians, caring for the sick, opening hospitals, opening schools and building  orphanages.

Yet these pillars are susceptible to the same “simple solution to multi-faceted problems” issue that we have been talking about. Is it inconsistent to be pro-life (in the anti-abortion sense) and be pro death penalty, military expansion and involvement in the world, refugee ban and at the same time being anti poverty -reducing initiatives, access to birth control, paid maternity leave? Is it inconsistent to proclaim that Jesus loved me and gave himself to die for me (while I was a sinner separated from God) and then put qualifiers on those that I love?

There are those that say there is no inconsistency, that these are apples and oranges and that justice or security demand tough choices to be made. There are those who say these examples are the very definition of hypocrisy, that pro-life means supporting all life, in all forms and love, if it’s a reflection of the love of Jesus, means loving all people. Christians fall on both sides. But again, the way that love and life apply to current issues is multi-faceted. What promotes love and life: closing abortion clinics or/and combating poverty? Using military strength to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable around the world or/and promoting the sanctity of all human life? Is there a continuum where we can fall between responsible love and reckless love? Or a chart that shows which lives matter more than others? These may be uncomfortable conversations but having them forces us to think through our positions and evaluate if they conform to the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God that Jesus announced. And if we discover that something is out of step with either, it us our application of love and life that needs to change not the definition of the gospel or the meaning of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.

I guess what I’m saying comes down to this: we must begin to see and understand that these issues are large, complicated and ever changing (solutions that might have worked a decade ago, may not work today). And the way that we approach issues must be large, multi-tiered, and ever changing. Most of all we, as Christians, must have the hard conversations of how love and life (shown and enacted in Jesus Christ) interact with these issues. To believe that there are single solutions to these problems and continuing to practice “double-down” debates won’t provide long term solutions, in fact they are just as likely to create further problems.

 

2017’s Theme: Review

Even though we’rimages-2e already over halfway through January, I haven’t written a post for the new year. For the last couple of years, I’ve chosen a theme that shaped my year. In 2015 the theme was doubt. In 2016 the theme was bravery. This year the theme is review.

Why do NBA coaches spend practice time on dribbling and ball handling skills? Or passing drills? Shouldn’t NBA players focus on other things that aren’t so elementary? Perhaps, but if the basics aren’t there and if they’re not reviewed regularly those skills could fade. The same is true for you and I as well, there are things in our lives that we should take the opportunity to review from time to time to review.

For me this means that my plan is to do a lot of re-reading. I have so many good books in my library that I need to take a second, third or fourth look at in order refresh myself on their messages. I also plan to review some of the posts that I’ve written and reexamine them to see if I still agree with what I’ve written or if my thinking has progressed. I also want to take time to see if I am putting into practice what I have suggested to others.

My theme for 2017: Review. Reexamine. Relearn. Reengage.

What’s your theme for the year?


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Half is Enough: A Review of “The Lesser Bohemians”

After 116 pages, I couldn’t read any more. Normally, I feel that it is my obligation to read the books I receive from Blogging for Books in their entirety, even if it is a book that I don’t like or have issue with, before posting a review. However, after 116 pages of The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride, I simply could not persuade myself to read any more. The novel tells the story of a young woman from Ireland who moves to London to go to the university to study drama. She gets romantically involved with an older, semi-famous London actor and the novel follows their “romance.” The reason I couldn’t make myself continue reading the story are three-fold.

First, the manner in which the book is written is unique. The format isn’t like any book I’ve seen. It is written in an poetic style- almost as if the novel was one epic poem. Phrases are short, choppy and incomplete. While it has an artistic beauty, it is not very enjoyable to read- like holding a bouquet of roses with the thorns still attached. The opening lines of the book give a good example: “Lo lay London Liverpool Street I am getting to on the train. Legs fair jigged from halfway there. Dairy Milk on this Stansted Express and cannot care for stray sludge splinters in the face of England go by (7). I found that it took me several minutes to regain the flow of the text each time I picked up the book the read and this fact made me less inclined to pick up the book after each sitting.

Second, the plot of the book revolves solely on sex and a misguided sense of love. Every few pages tells of another sexual encounter either between the young woman and the actor or between the young woman and a man met at the bar or between the young woman and her married roommate. But the larger issue is the misguided sense of love. Somewhere in the Western consciousness, lust has replaced love and abuse has replaced relationship. I feel I could convincing argue that the actor engages in both emotional and physical abuse of the young woman. Ultimately this sense of love is unfulfilling and pointless. In one passage the actor tells the young woman, “Do you think I don’t understand? I know all about having a good time. Having it and having it until it’s everything turned to sh-t and you can’t believe the things you’ve done, look at me, is that what you want? (106). McBride writes true words here. What the reader sees in the characters (at least up to this point) is their emotional emptying and perhaps there is an emotional filling that takes places in the remainder of the novel but that leads me to the third critique.

Third, I’m 116 pages into the novel and instead of the story driving me forward its conclusion, I find that as a reader, I don’t care. I don’t care about the characters. Perhaps that changes in the second half of the novel- but I don’t care enough to find out. The reason I don’t care is because I feel like a don’t know them. Yes, I see their romantic encounters but the characters just do things and the reader doesn’t know why and without that connection, I find little desire to continue in their story. I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review.