Entries tagged with “First Things”.


lcc

On this day three years ago I began work as Communications Manager of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. It’s truly been an honour to serve the Church in this capacity.

What’s more, the position has opened up new opportunities along the way for further service to the Christian Church at large. Last year (on November 16), LCC’s board of Directors approved a request from the International Lutheran Council to have me serve with them in a communications capacity. And in March 2013, I was invited to join First Things as a regular blogger (which, given my full schedule, usually works out to once a month).

In short, it’s been a very rewarding, if busy, three years since joining LCC full-time. I can’t wait to get started on my fourth.

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My latest piece for First Things takes up a subject I’ve discussed elsewhere from time to time: Christian Masculinity. The occasion for this particular post was a recent news story about “America’s manliest church”—one that’s raffled off guns and spends an inordinate amount of time talking about booze and “big balls.”

My focus in my article is less to talk about this particular church then to use it to talk about a problem that’s worried me for some time: the teaching that Christian men are called primarily to be warriors. Sometimes this takes a more dignified approach (we should be knights!) and sometimes it’s more crass, as in Ignite’s case. But in each situation, the problem is the same: it suggests aggression is or should be the defining feature of Christian masculinity.

I spend the rest of my article deconstructing this errant understanding of manhood, choosing the analogy of a gardener (like Adam) as a more helpful image of Christian masculinity. Read the article (“Uprooting the Christian Masculinity Complex”) to understand why.

Of course, there’s only so much you can say in so short a column. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the subject, you’ll have to read a feature I wrote for Converge a few years back: “Christian Masculinity: The Man God Hasn’t Called You To Be.”

Finally, I’ve broached similar topics in an article for A Christian Thing entitled “Does the Church Make it Hard to be a Man?”

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indiana-jones

About a month ago, a new book came out claiming that the Holy Grail had been discovered…again. What is it about the cup Christ used at a Passover meal 2,000 years ago that so fascinates us? Why are people still searching for it today. And are we missing the real miracle of the Last Supper? That and more in an article I wrote last week for First Things: “What if we find the Holy Grail? Miracles and man.”

Lutherans like myself should not, therefore, simply deny the possibility that this or that physical object—or relic, if you will—might be used by God to convey miraculous power. He’s done it before; he can do it again if he so chooses. But there is a danger in putting too much stock in such relics, even if they are what they purport to be. One can easily slip from faith in the God who wrought wonders through an object to an idolatrous faith in the power of the object itself. This is precisely what occurred in the case of the bronze snake mentioned earlier. We read that in Hezekiah’s time it became necessary to destroy the snake, for the Israelites had begun to honor as if it had power itself—as if it were, in fact, a god (2 Kings 18:4)…

Even if a relic could be proved to be the Holy Grail to the exclusion of all other claimants, Christians would be wise to heed the words of Charles Williams. In his novel War in Heaven, the Grail is discovered in small rural church in England. The Archdeacon of Fardles finds in the Grail peace and joy. And while the vessel is presented in the novel as supernaturally powerful, the Archdeacon confesses, as we all ought to confess in such a moment, “Neither is this Thou.” Whatever worth the relic has, it is still not God. Seeking it for its own sake, apart from God, is to enter into idolatry.

For more on relics, supernatural power, and the true miracle of the Last Supper, read the full article.

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We’re currently in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place January 18–25. It’s unsurprising, therefore, to see Pope Francis, like his forbears, calling on Christians to pray for the restoration of unity in Christendom. “In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal,” he said to a delegation of Finnish Lutherans visiting Rome this past Friday, “we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one.’”

Note the implication in the first clause there: There are “those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal.” However encouraging the pope’s words are, they include an acknowledgement that not all is well when it comes to the ecumenical project. In the above linked article, Cardinal Kurt Koch (head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) explains that part of the problem is a fundamental disagreement over what the purpose of ecumenism even is. The Catholic News Agency quotes him as follows: “‘The main problem that we have today in the ecumenical dialogue with all the Protestant’ communities . . . is the lack of ‘a common vision of the goal of the ecumenical movement. We have two different views. The Catholic view, (which) is also the Orthodox view, (is) that we will re-find the unity in faith in the sacraments and in ministries.’” Conversely, Cardinal Koch says, “the vision that I find today in the Protestant churches and ecclesial communities (is that) of the mutual recognition of all ecclesial communities as churches.”

It’s hard to argue with the cardinal’s assessment…

More on this in my post “The purpose of Ecumenism” over at First Things.

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Over at First Things, I explore the origin of the “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” quote so often attributed to C.S. Lewis online. Spoilers: It’s much older and much less Christian than many people seem to realize. A selection follows. See it all in“The Spiritualist Origins of “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.'”

About a year and a half ago, Mere Orthodoxy published a piece by Hannah Peckham on the oft-quoted expression: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It’s frequently attributed online (and in print) to C.S. Lewis, but he never actually said it. In fact, as Mere Orthodoxy makes clear, the expression comes much earlier than Lewis. Their post traces it back to an 1892 Quaker periodical, in which it is attributed (second-hand and unsourced) to George MacDonald. [UPDATE: Thanks to Jeremy Rios who in the comments identifies MacDonald’s Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood as the source of this reference.] The author at Mere Orthodoxy suggests this reference to MacDonald might be the reason Lewis has been associated with the phrase, given the latter’s open admiration for the former. But as the post also makes clear, Lewis himself never wrote anything even close to these words.

This 1892 reference is not, of course, the expression’s first occurrence; we find similar phrases throughout the late 19th century. But perhaps one of the most significant early instances of its use—at least for understanding what the phrase originally meant—comes just over a decade earlier. In early October 1881, Rev. Dr. R. Thornton presented a paper at the Church of England’s Church Congress in New Castle, during which he said: “We should have taught more carefully than we have done, not that men are bodies and have souls, but that they are souls and have bodies.” His lecture was apparently printed in The Guardian shortly thereafter, from which it was reproduced in other publications over the next few weeks: in Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter, in The Medium and Daybreak, and (partially) in Morning Light.

While Thornton is not the first to use language of this sort, his paper nevertheless helps explain why Christians today should be wary of it: namely, because the terminology arises out of a Spiritualist, not Christian, framework.

Read the rest at First Things.

canada-flag-webA little while back, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams made headlines for his comments on the persecution (or lack thereof) of Christians in the West. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable,” he said. “I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country [the United Kingdom] or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots—perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.”

It’s perhaps best the Most Rev. Williams restricted his comments to the United Kingdom and the United States, because the threat of religious persecution in Canada just got a whole lot more real. The Province of Quebec is planning to pass a law which would ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including such things as turbans, crucifixes, hijabs, and kippas. And it’s not just for government representatives: it would apply to all public institutions, including schools and hospitals. That’s right: teachers, doctors, and nurses, among numerous other workers, would all be forbidden from wearing religious symbols on the job. Don’t like it? Find another job.

Read the rest in my article over at First Things.

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Update (September 15): The Charter has been officially unveiled. I’ve got more on this story at First Things in a post entitled “Quebec’s Charter: When ‘Values’ Means the Denial of Religious Rights.”

From my post “You Probably Think This Psalm is About You” at First Things.

David-PsalmsAnd yet we still can’t help but read ourselves into the text from time to time. It seems to me that some of this might be attributable to our desire to examine our own lives and beliefs (and test out other potential lives and beliefs) through literature; we take Bunyan’s advice and lay our head and heart together with the book. We know it’s not about us literally; and yet we believe, innately, that it has the capacity to become “about us.”

But there is one book (or series of books) that Christians have throughout the ages repeatedly affirmed is “about us:” the Bible. And no book in this library is declared “about us” more often than the Psalms. St. Basil the Great explains the idea well: “The Holy Spirit composed the Scriptures so that in them, as in a pharmacy open to all souls, we might each of us be able to find the medicine suited to our own particular illness… But the Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behaviour to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases” (Homily on Psalm 1).

While this is a valid and important way of reading the Psalms, it should not become the sole way we read them—something Jonathan Kraemer discusses in his article “Praying the Psalms with the Body of Christ.” After all, while this or that Psalm may seem to fit how we’re feeling on any given day, there are many more which will not. What good is it then to read “Psalms that have us lamenting when we feel like praising; and praising when we feel like lamenting?”

Read the rest at First Things.