len on December 13th, 2016

coverLinda Cannell’s article closes Part IV of Life in the Spirit (IVP, 2010) with, “Theology, Spiritual Formation and Theological Education.” Her essay has some interesting connections to the arguments James Smith makes in Desiring the Kingdom, esp his closing chapter, “A Christian University is for Lovers.” (Or more recently his boiled down version “We Are What We Love”)

In the second part of her article Linda notes four factors that constitute a threat matrix to holistic theological schooling. Taken together they have profound implications for the future of the seminary and the church. There are four, and she spends one or two pages on each. I’ll list them here then provided an extended quote from the fourth.

* The Rise of institutions
* The Rise of academic theology and academic rationalism
* The Rise of professionalism in higher education
* How the church and academy have understood and fostered the desire to know God Read the rest of this entry »

len on December 10th, 2016

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us! Malcolm writes,

“Of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ’liberation’. The same ideas are also there in the lines from O Come O Come Emmanuel that are drawn from this antiphon, which could easily be part of anybody’s work in good therapy:

“Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.”

“I see this antiphon, and the sonnet I wrote in response to it, as the ‘before’ picture that precedes the beautiful fifth antiphon O Oriens about Christ as the Dayspring. When l wrote this sonnet I found that I had at last written something clear about my own experience of depression. I hope that others who have been in that darkness will find it helpful.”

O Clavis

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons (London: Canterbury Press, 2012)

len on December 9th, 2016

When everything that can be shaken is being shaken, we look to traditional authority structures and authority figures to pull us through. Unfortunately, traditional authority is not up to the task. Frequently they are isolated in mini-worlds that have insulated and protected them from change. They have stopped “listening.” In other cases, they defend the status quo in order to protect their own interests.

Yet we need leadership. Where do we find it? In two places.

1. Among the ordinary, yet gifted and called people, who are following Christ. But these are not normally episcopal figures. Bonhoeffer writes that, “The desire we so often hear today for ‘episcopal figures’ .. springs from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men.. because the genuine authority of service appears so unimpressive.” (109) And later he writes, “The question of trust.. is determined by faithfulness to the service of Jesus Christ.. never by the extraordinary talents [one] possesses. Pastoral authority is attained only.. by the brother among brothers.” (Life Together) A friend of mine put it like this: “Never give anyone authority over you who has not washed your feet.”

2. In a communitas of leaders: an order of people dedicated to the kingdom and to God’s mission.

Having spent a week among two faculty and a group of students from Tyndale Seminary, I believe the key to the growth and vitality of this organization is that a communitas of leaders has been created. Tyndale has found a way to actualize a proposal made by Alan Roxburgh some years ago.

At the end of The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh proposes a communitas of missional leaders. A communitas is a creative commons, but with shared purpose and discipline. Roxburgh outlines the reasons why we need a communitas of leaders.

“The potential of communitas is for something innovative to emerge across the differences that have characterized the last several decades. Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for leaders on both sides of the polarity to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other.” (111) Read the rest of this entry »

len on December 3rd, 2016

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Malcolm writes,

“The third Advent antiphon, O Radix, calls on Christ as the root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The collect is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘son of David, but for me the title radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ, is I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers, a sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches.”

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

This sonnet based on the third O Antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

len on December 1st, 2016

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Why the dark before the dawn?
– U2

Few of us are very good at waiting..

We wait in a thousand ways… We wait in an airport for a plane that is delayed. We wait in a dentist’s office for our turn in the chair.. We wait in the line up at The Bay or Circuit City for that gift for a friend. We wait ..

And we wait for those transitions that are too slow in coming: the end of a job that is outworn, and the beginning of a new one that lies nearer to our passion. Perhaps we wait for something even more basic: we wait for health, the end of a prolonged illness. Or we wait for the good news that the child of a son, daughter or friend is born healthy.

We wait in a thousand ways, like we wait for the birth of a new world. Or perhaps we wait for the fulfillment of a promise made many years ago; we wait for a world of justice, peace, and light that seems so slow in coming.

It isn’t easy, because in our “now” culture of instant gratification, waiting is a lost art. Waiting as sacred space has been lost as we have lost our sense of rhythm, and found a way to cheat seasons, cheat aging, and streamline nearly everything into rational patterns of efficiency. The only ones in touch with rhythm are those who have learned to pray, or those who live by the sea, or perhaps women, who still know rhythm in their bodies and in the waiting for birth.

But if we have lost the ability to wait, what do we do with hope? For nearly four hundred years the Jews waited for the Messiah, but when he arrived, all but a few missed him. They had learned to occupy their time so well, that they had lost the ability to perceive difference. They had their system rationalized down to the smallest detail; nothing escaped their notice. Nothing.. yet everything.

While we wait we live in between the times. That is a sacred space when we wait in hope. And when we wait in hope we are formed and transformed by waiting. Hope shapes us into a faithful people, looking to a future we have not yet seen but we trust will arrive in good time. As Dame Julian put it,

“All will be well —
and all manner of thing shall be well..”

See also Hope and Memory in a Place of Exile

len on November 30th, 2016

O Come O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel..

This prayer is still ours as we wait for the return of Jesus. We are God’s people in exile, a broken people, at some times worshipping the true God, at other times worshipping an image of godness, self-created, a dead idol that will not confront our compromise. Walter Brueggemann writes,

“As I reflect on ministry, and especially on my ministry, I know in the hidden places that the real restraints are not in my understanding or in the receptivity of other people. Rather, the restraints come from my own unsureness about this perception… I, like most of the others, am unsure that the alternative community inclusive of the poor, hungry and grieving is really the wave of God’s future. We are indeed “like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). That is likely the situation of many of us in ministry, and there is no way out of it. It does make clear to us that our ministry will always be practiced through our own conflicted selves…

“We ourselves shall move in and out [of certainty, of our convictions about the nature of the kingdom of God and His body, our awareness of what God is doing] precisely because of our poor capacity to grieve the death in our own lives and so be amazed at the new futures. We are not more skilled in that than all the other children of the compromised community, and therefore we must engage in the same painful practices of becoming who we are called to be. I have come to think that there is no more succinct summary of prophetic ministry than the statement of Jesus: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21), or “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).

It strikes me that the grief that we avoid, as we face the realities of a dying world and a powerless church, is truly paralyzing. It is part of the experience of lostness, our inability to generate adequate answers or solutions for the need, and thus part of the liminality the Lord invites us into. Accept the invitation — but don’t go there alone! Grief is one of the preconditions to the newness the Lord will one day bring.

Audio: Vineyard Singers O Come, O come… Do also find Enya’s beautiful rendition of this ancient melody. The song is based on the famous “O Antiphons

len on November 30th, 2016

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom! O Root! O Key! O Light! Come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying “Tomorrow I will be there.”

This sonnet based on the first antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

len on November 30th, 2016

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to explore new frontiers
To break free from the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dreams no longer
But to do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no longer

John O’Donohue

len on November 24th, 2016

IV
Standing on the thrusting grass by the choked pear-tree
The gnarled gardener is older than the trunk he tends.
The tendrils of the weed he strips from the limb
Have wrapped round both its twigs and his
And link the laddered acid of his seed
Back down to planet and to plant.
His fingers tend the garden’s need:
Yet the transpired breath of the garden is
The respired breath of his work, which is the hymn
Of his soul and the grown voice of the soil rejoicing:
That dropped and rotting seeds may blossom yet from the dirt.

V
Now in the darkening afternoon
The animals watch from the garden’s verge,
Shaped like versions of myself in the forests
of my sleep (Though I wake to kill them and eat).
Caught by their horns in our thickets they thresh
To escape us, the birds and the beasts.
And still through the ripped veils of their flesh
We enter with trampling feet
The violent sanctum of our unkept Keep:
And no slain lamb or ram nor any blood of bull
or dove Can give back the peace of our lost first task.

VI
Image of God, we say, and image of the world:
Eve, sorrowing, and blest-for-all-of-mankind, Mary
(Ruth-like in the fields, hopeful in the reaped wheat
To glean the grace of her promised pain),
And Jesus, like a mother at the town’s dark side
Stretched with pain of making, and of making Man,
Who taught us how to be crucified
(We who would rather be slayers than slain);
He whom the Magdalene only could greet
At first as the gardener: Exactly the image of God—
Christ, who returned us the gardener’s task.

VII
Creation waits now for the gardener to speak:
And the eager weeds await their release
From the bondage of being weeds.
Eden and Zion lie far apart
But atom and ocean, beasts and plants
Wait for the one who will grant them peace.
Then the planet will spin in a sabbath dance
(And the dancing place will be the heart).
Fruit will burgeon from scattered seeds
And garden and town be clean as a fleece
Early in the morning, on the first day of the week.

Loren Wilkinson

*** ***
Adam – the name means literally “of the earth.” From dust they were made.

Of the dust, yet of the sky. Filled with the breath of God, the spirit that animates this clay. Reading an excerpt from Matthew Fox the other day and thinking about the relationship of these two, through the lens of the city. Fox relates an interview with someone from the New York Times. They ask him about the connection of his creation spirituality to life in the city. He says, “look out the window. What do you see?” “Bricks,” she answers.

Bricks, red with the earth of their making. Are we distant from the earth, or surrounded by it? We are still building towers, raising the earth to God. When we drive our cars, we are burning the stuff of earth — oil, which is mostly decayed vegetable matter, made of carbon and earth. Rubber tires, made from trees that draw their sustenance from earth.

Similarly, our technology. Now instead of the, we use sand – silicon. Silicon has become the building block for intelligent life. If we have our way, that intelligence may one day surpass our own. But it will be creation in our image — born of our fertile imaginations, and made of the earth, the stuff of our own making.

len on November 15th, 2016

“The Jacobsians sought fresh methods of making cities work — from the grassroots and the bottom up. The subaltern was exalted, the master laid low. Drafting tables were tossed for pickets and surveys and spreadsheets. Planners sought new alliances in academe, beyond architecture and design — in political science, law, economics, sociology. But there were problems. First, none of the social sciences were primarily concerned with the city; at best they could be only partial allies. Second, planning was not taken seriously by these fields. The schoolboy crush was not returned, making the relationship unequal from the start. Even today it’s rare for a social science department to hire a planning PhD, while planning programs routinely hire academics with doctorates in economics and political science. Indeed, Nathan Glazer observed that one of the hallmarks of a minor profession is that faculty with “outside” doctorates actually enjoy higher prestige than those with degrees in the profession itself. They also tend to have minimal allegiance to planning.

“This brings us to the first of the three legacies of the Jacobsian turn: It diminished the disciplinary identity of planning. While the expanded range of scholarship and practice in the post-urban renewal era diversified the field, that diversification came at the expense of an established expertise — strong, centralized physical planning — that had given the profession visibility and identity both within academia and among “place” professions such as architecture and landscape architecture… Today, planners themselves often have a hard time explaining the purpose of their profession. By forgoing its traditional focus and expanding too quickly, planning became a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. And so it remains.

“The second legacy of the Jacobsian revolution is related to the first: Privileging the grassroots over plannerly authority and expertise meant a loss of professional agency. In rejecting the muscular interventionism of the Burnham-Moses sort, planners in the 1960s identified instead with the victims of urban renewal. New mechanisms were devised to empower ordinary citizens to guide the planning process. Tools and processes introduced to ensure popular participation ended up reducing the planner’s role to that of umpire or schoolyard monitor. Instead of setting the terms of debate or charting a course of action, planners now seemed content to be facilitators — “mere absorbers of public opinion,” as Alex Krieger put it, “waiting for consensus to build.”

“The fatal flaw of such populism is that no single group of citizens — mainstream or marginalized, affluent or impoverished — can be trusted to have the best interests of society or the environment in mind when they evaluate a proposal. The literature on grassroots planning tends to assume a citizenry of Gandhian humanists. In fact, most people are not motivated by altruism but by self-interest.

“The third legacy of the Jacobsian turn is perhaps most troubling of all: the seeming paucity among American planners today of the speculative courage and vision that once distinguished this profession…”

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