len on March 28th, 2014

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple…..Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’
Isa. 6:1,8

Beauty has a way of transforming us. It never leaves us indifferent or unaffected but moves us towards action, sending us back into the world as witnesses of what we have seen. As Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it, “Beauty works its way into our bones, into the sinews of our life, indelibly marking us, and then setting us off.”

Isaiah, having tasted the goodness of the Lord, is sent out as a herald of the beauty he has seen. As the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes,

“The one who has been grasped by the beautiful is like the woman in the Gospel who breaks open the alabaster jar at the feet of Jesus and allows the aroma of the perfume to fill the entire house; she is willing to break open her life in order to witness to what she has seen and heard.”

Experiences of beauty always imply mission. We are changed by what God has shown us. And whatever we receive in such encounters is always for the sake of others. As Barron notes,

“Visions of the divine are never given merely for the sake of private edification or contemplation. The “seeing” is never an end in itself. On the contrary, there is always a commission attached to the insight. Vision opens you to mission. You have been shown so that others might see as well.”

There are countless examples in Scripture of this movement from “seeing” to “being sent.” Moses is so marked by his encounter with God that his face became radiant. He doesn’t stay on the mountaintop but comes back down to set his people free. Saul of Tarsus, dazzled by Christ’s light, is sent to Damascus where he is given a mission to carry the message of Jesus to the gentiles. And Peter, the first to discern that Jesus is the Messiah, is immediately given the commission to anchor and ground the community through which the glory he has recognized will now be proclaimed to the world.

God, it would seem, does not disclose himself without a “price”. He commissions the one who has seen with a call for service to the whole community, a call that is both compelling and inescapable. The beauty of the Lord becomes a fire within us, prompting us to a missionary life of proclamation. As Barron puts it, “To refuse this call would be tantamount to refusing the best of oneself. To ignore it would be to ignore the person we are meant to be.” He adds,

“The summons from God is like the coal placed on the lips of Isaiah, or the fire burning uncomfortably in the bones of Jeremiah, or the compulsion that Paul feels to proclaim the Gospel: ” I am ruined if I do not preach it!” The beauty of God so possesses us that our very identity, our very person, becomes the mission to communicate this to the world.”

Whatever we have seen of Christ transforms us into witnesses of the gospel. And the same mystery that first drew us to His beauty now sends us out to share with the world the glory we have seen.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities

len on March 26th, 2014

three optionsRecently I made an aside in a sermon from John 6 to the effect that eternal Hell isn’t the only possible destiny for those who refuse God’s offer of life. Many Anglicans, Orthodox and Presbyterians — in other words, many protestants, believe that being raised to judgement leads to either life or death — literal death.

When it comes to the eternal destiny of unbelievers, I am agnostic. I don’t really know. But I lean toward this position — they cease to exist. John Stott, the great British evangelical leader who died last year, said this:

“We need to survey the biblical material afresh. I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitmate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal, conscious torment.”

Conditionalism of course also has its shades along the line: “punished” with destruction is not how some see it. And of course others, like CS Lewis, were closer to Christian universalism, where Christ’s sacrifice was literally for the sins of all the world. Even after death — at the resurrection — people will have a chance to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and then be perfected in love.

So here are some links to further that discussion:

Re-Thinking Hell

Greg Boyd on “The case for annihilationism”

Jeremy and Christine list the relevant Scriptures

len on March 24th, 2014

In the most recent issue of Missional Voice, the crew at FORGE Canada carry a short article by Darren Cronshaw (Australia) and Kim Hammond (FORGE USA). I found the article helpful and unusual, in that it not only outlines an intentionally balanced approach to spirituality (the active and contemplative voice), but it implies something that has been largely neglected: a gendered spirituality.

I don’t know about you, but I found the Promise Keepers approach too narrow. At the same time, I recognized that there might be something very useful in affirming that male spirituality might have different tendencies than that common to women. Androgyny seems the rising ideal these days: and while I want to affirm acceptance, I also want to affirm a biblical anthropology.

Darren and Kim (both men btw) write,

“As activists we desperately need some silence and solitude to be balanced. But we also love engaged spirituality. Let’s be permission giving in how we invite people to experience God in different ways. One of the best things I (Darren) appreciated my spiritual director telling me was that I could use gardening and bushwalking as spiritual exercises. After one session she sent me home to go outside and nurture my fruit trees, and the next available Sabbath up to the mountains for a coffee, bushwalk, coffee and mutual spiritual direction retreat with my wife Jenni. We love enjoying conversation, activity, engaging culture and enjoying creation – all as part of a wholesome spirituality.”

I am attaching their article in PDF here –

beyond the ‘quiet time’ – FORGE

But you can find the entire issue at the FORGE Canada website.

Elsewhere, some reflections on Myers-Briggs relative to spiritual formation.

Addendum – Paul Fromont of Prodigal Kiwis offers these resources –

(1) Remaking Men: Jung, spirituality and social change by David J. Tacey. This is an academic text. Not suitable for a general reader, but I include it because it was the first book to broaden my understanding of the masculine, while enriching it by introducing me to the Jungian world.
(2) From Wild Men to Wise Men: Reflections on Male Spirituality by Richard Rohr (with Joseph Martos). This is a good book for a general reader. Explicitly Christian but Rohr draws heavily on the Jungian / Mythological tradition. He does that with all of his books, especially those he’s helpfully written around mid-life. Again, a less open-minded group of men might struggle with the Jungian dimensions, but I’ve always found them really helpful.
(3) New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality by Philip Culbertson. Again, draws on the biblical / Christian tradition. Easily read by a more thoughtful reader. I’m not sure the audience is primarily the general reader, but I found it very helpful.
(4) Any engagement with masculinity can’t avoid sexuality and one of the best (though maybe a little dated in places) is The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality by James B. Nelson.
(5) This one is mainstream. Passages for Men: Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives by Gail Sheehy.

And by fellow Canadian Gareth Brandt (I have not had my hands on this book) “Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality.”

len on March 21st, 2014

“Worship is not a doorway out of the world, a path deeper into self, or an abstract communion with God, but a way into the world through an alternative vision and way of life. Participation in the Lord’s Supper teaches Christians how to remember, how to eat, and how to live. The bread when lifted up and blessed, thrusts our vision both forward toward all of God’s gifts and backward toward the bread we had for breakfast, to the gifted and social nature of our existence, to the interconnectedness of worship and life.

“Recognizing their own hunger, their own need for forgiveness and reconciliation, Christians stand in solidarity with the hungry, the dispossessed and the marginalized. Nourished and strengthened in a new relationship with Jesus Christ, those who break bread together are drawn into and participate in his ministry of conquering need, overcoming alienation, and accepting the despised.”

Inagrace Dietterich, “Cultivating Missional Communities,” 34

len on March 17th, 2014

“I say we have a church in North America that is more secular than the culture.
“Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, [or theaters], the culture began a search for the sacred.

“Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-ehlp seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God. sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert or listening to a Creed CD.”

Reggie NcNeal, “The Present Future”

len on March 13th, 2014

CS Lewis’ intro to JB Phillips translation work – these battles never seem to go away, but Lewis’ apologia remains timely as well as erudite & eloquent:

*** ***
It is possible that the reader who opens this volume on the counter of a bookshop may ask himself why we need a new translation of any part of the Bible, and, if of any, why of the Epistles. ‘Do we not already possess’, it may be said, ‘in the Authorized Version the most beautiful rendering which any language can boast?’ Some people whom I have met go further and feel that a modern translation is not only unnecessary but even offensive. They cannot bear to see the time-honoured words altered; it seems to them irreverent.

There are several answers to such people. In the first place the kind of objection which they feel to a new translation is very like the objection which was once felt to any English translation at all. Read the rest of this entry »

len on March 13th, 2014

The size of a ministry, sphere of influence, and the size of a heart have to correspond. Where leaders get into trouble is when their influence expands quicker than the capacity of their heart. Bernard of Clairvaux understood the connection. He writes, “The man who is wise will see his life more as a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water til it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself. Today there are many in the church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare.”

Bernard, Sn 18,1:2, “Your name is oil poured out.”

len on March 10th, 2014

About 45 hours left to go.

A publisher committed $5000 to this project last summer, then backed out. The book project is well along, and has involved six months of work. Much is being written about incarnational and missional engagement, and the recovery of parish, assuming a theology of place without articulating it. We need renewed imagination that is biblically rooted, creatively engaging the places we live and God’s relationship to the world: this project aims to fund that imagination.

The eight chapters will total 70,000 words. Three indices will be included: General, Names, and Scripture.

1. Exploring Place
2. Foundations I: Culture, Creation and Covenant
3. Foundations II: The New Testament and Eschatology
4. The Practice of Place
5. Politics and Public Space
6. The Urban Landscape
7. Re-placing the World through Pilgrimage
8. Re-placing the World through the Arts
9. Appendix – Prayers and Liturgies

“In a world of long commutes, affordable travel, global internet connections, and a host of cultural practices tending to distance us from the truth of our locatedness, No Home Like Place invites us to take root again. It dares us to embrace the gift of a human-scaled life. Hjalmarson integrates fresh theological reflection with thoughtful practices for inhabiting place; a magnificent and liberating practical theology of place.”

Dwight J. Friesen, DMin. Associate Professor at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Author: Thy Kingdom Connected.

“No Home Like Place unfolds a message we earnestly need in the West: “God calls us to a people and a place.” Winsomely written, deeply researched, this book will genuinely help you see where you live differently, as a “place,” a story, a sacramental tapestry where God is steadfastly, concretely at work for the salvation of the world.

David Fitch, PhD. B.R Lindner Chair of Theology, Northern Seminary. Author: Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier

“Len is an important voice in the emerging conversation on the spirituality of the missional church. In this book, he articulates vividly and beautifully something that is implicit and crucial to missional theology, though previously undeveloped in the literature—namely, a theology and spirituality of place. Len’s writing provokes thinking, stirs the imagination, and calls forth and nurtures one’s inner longings to put down roots, to invest in one’s home, neighbourhood, workplace, and city, and to join with others in welcoming and bearing witness to God’s presence and kingdom in our midst. A valuable contribution!

Patrick Franklin, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics,
Providence Theological Seminary.

“This book is about place, rootedness, belonging, yet it reads like a travelogue. Compelling, the book weaves together theological reflection, lessons learned in life, disappointments and dreams. It draws on thinkers as diverse as Ancient Bishops, Medieval Mystics, theologians of all ages and bible interpreters of modern and post-modern worlds. Through this book I felt I journeyed with Len, experiencing sacred and human places along the way that remind us our ultimate home is just around the corner.”

Tim Geddert, Ph.D. Professor of NT, MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, CA


len on March 9th, 2014

“Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women. The behind-the-scenes work of creativity by word and sacrament, by parable and prayer, subverts the seduced world. The pastor’s real work is what Ivan Illich calls “shadow work” – the work nobody gets paid for and few notice but that makes a world of salvation: meaning and value and purpose, a world of love and hope and faith – in short, the kingdom of God.”

Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

len on March 7th, 2014

“The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other. Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech.

“Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing. But this stillness before God’s Word will exert its influence upon the whole day. If we have learned to be silent before the Word, we shall also learn to manage our silence and our speech during the day.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 79