Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Church Fathers on prayer

What reason is there to go to prayer with hands indeed washed, but the spirit foul?

A while back I wrote about Worshiping with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall (InterVarsity, 2009). Reading this book opened a window on ideas about worship, and practices of worship, that I wasn't all that familiar with. Some of these ideas and practices might seem alien to a contemporary Christian's experience, but that just might be a clue that our experience would be enriched by tapping into this formative period of church history.

My previous post dealt with the fathers' approach to the sacraments (as sketched out by Hall), now I share some thoughts on their approach to prayer. The fathers took with literal seriousness the biblical command to pray without ceasing. They saw constant communion with God, and experience of his presence, to be something within reach. Granted, they didn't have the same obstacles that we modern always-plugged-into-the-grid people have, but the problem remained -- how does one overcome the distractions that keep one from praying?

Hall draws heavily in this chapter from a Syrian desert father called Abba Isaac. He recommended picking a verse of scripture to use as a "tether" to keep a wandering mind tied to the "perpetual awareness of God." The verse Isaac selected was Psalm 70:1 -- "Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!" The urgency of the Psalmist is a reminder of the constant peril we face and the moment-by-moment salvation we need. There's also a confidence that God will hear and is close at hand to offer the deliverance we need. I have this verse taped to my computer at work.

The church fathers recognized that a primary obstacle to prayer was the problem of self-deception. Hall writes:

We are deeply, horribly, infinitely self-deceived. And our fundamental self-deception manifests itself in a deep-seated tendency to lie about the true state of affairs in our lives. We imagine ourselves generous yet rarely give anything away. Pure in our thinking yet addicted to a weekly jaunt through the Web's darkest corridors. We can blithely assassinate someone's character and five minutes later be sitting in a worship service or retreat center, praying for the very same person whose character we murdered earlier. Our habituated thoughts and behaviors are who we are—they are us, our character. And it is our character that we bring into prayer with us.

Tertullian (as evidenced by the quote above) and others of his contemporaries didn't think it was possible to separate one's "spiritual life" from his or her "everyday life." We can't leave our dirty laundry outside when we come in to pray. "What's going on outside of prayer invariably leaks into prayer itself." However, "This doesn't mean that we should stop praying, for prayer is a principal means of healing and reshaping our character into the image of Christ." The fathers viewed prayer as a movement from self-deception to self-awareness. They remind us that in the practice of constant prayer we are transformed.

All quotes from p. 87 & 135 of Worshiping with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity, 2009)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dealing with spousal and child abuse in the church

I found this weeks episode of the Mortification of Spin podcast helpful and thought-provoking. It gave me some suggestions that I'll be passing on to the pastors and session of the church in which I serve as an elder. In fact, I think this is pretty much required listening if you are a pastor, elder, or church leader of any kind.

You can find it on iTunes or listen here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

They always get away

Rather than offering my two cents on the George Zimmerman trial and verdict (which I didn't follow closely) here are some worthwhile words from my friend Chris -- a brother in Christ and a young man wise beyond his years. He posted this on social media earlier today.

"'They always get away.' These were the words George Zimmerman uttered as he followed and later shot Trayvon Martin -- words that reflected his belief that Trayvon was one of "them," the kind of person about to get away with something. How ironic these words sound now in light of the jury verdict acquitting Zimmerman."
Do I agree with the verdict of Zimmerman: Yes. In the context of Florida's legal system, Zimmerman was not proven guilty, not even close--there was simply too much ambiguity on any of the considered positive evidence for Trayvon, and there was positive evidence against Trayvon to justify Zimmerman's claim to self-defense.
But this quote portrays what bothers me the most, my friends--i.e., certain dispositions Zimmerman revealed (which were, might I mention, completely false and unjustified) that led to the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin.

Speaking from my experiences, I have been on the bad end of several instances of racial profiling. While occurring, I often think to myself "These people have no idea who I am." I love the same Christ which these white people probably find themselves worshipping in their churches on Sunday. I also find myself with an unswerving passion for philosophy of religion and philosophical theology--because of this, I mostly study dead or dying white men. I also am far from the biggest fan of rap music, preferring to listen to indie and classical instead.

Yet, no matter how much I might distance myself from stereotypical caricatures of black men in America, I've still faced the same, tired racial profiling.The frustration in enduring this is difficult to communicate, yet it, undoubtedly, shapes how I, along with others of similar experiences, view cases like Trayvon's. It is this aspect of experience which colors our conscience, and it is this which we ask for sympathy and understanding toward.

You can find more of Chris' writing at the blog Christ, My Redeemer

Friday, July 12, 2013

A pro-life story

The other day Rod Dreher wrote: "Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men." An example . . .

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Embracing "radical ordinariness"

This piece by Tish Harrison Warren resonated with me. Perhaps it will with you. Here's an excerpt: 

A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us.

And here is the embarrassing truth: I still believe in and long for a revolution. I still think I can make a difference beyond just my front door. I still want to live radically for Jesus and be part of him changing the world. I still think mediocrity is dull, and I still fret about settling.

But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.

So, so true.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

More voices from Warrendale

In 2010 I reviewed the 1967 documentary Warrendale about a controversial home for "troubled" children in Canada. It launched the career of Allan King who went on to direct a series of critically acclaimed documentaries -- all of which are available for home viewing in a handsome boxed set from the fine folks at The Criterion Collection. Each film is a singular piece unlike anything you're likely to have ever seen.

Several months after posting my review I received a note from a former resident of Warrendale, and these have continued sporadically over the last few years. In hopes that this might serve as a forum and connection point I'm reposting the links below.

The original review with comments from Sharon Turple Gataiance & Ann Diamond

A voice from Warrendale with comments from Barbara, Michael O'Sullivan & Mike Crowe