Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Great Insight!

Discussing Barbara Brown Taylor's The Luminous Web the other night, subtitled Essays on Science and Religion, I was taken by her sense, shared by many on both sides of that seemingly impossible divide, that the distinction between scientific and religious knowledge is not as clear as it once was. She quotes one scientist who holds that "the common division of the world into subject and object, inner world and outer world, body and soul is no longer adequate."

"As a believer in one God,"she writes, "I think everything is connected to everything else. What is exciting to me is that believers in science are beginning to say the same thing--not the God part but the connection part.

"In Sunday school," she continues, "I learned to think of God as a very old white-bearded man on a throne, who stood above creation and occasionally stirred it with a stick. When I am dreaming quantum dreams, what I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net."

Throughout this fascinating book, "relationship" seems a key word. As all life in nature is related, even energies at great distance from each other, so ought we be related who study it--properly humble before its mystery, both factual and confessional, thus able to address each other from our vantage points without disrespecting the other. There is but one truth just as there is one God who, as the Apostle Paul says is "over all, and in all, and through all."

When your really think about it, how much of the heat generated in scientific/religious conflicts is really an expression of pride on both sides, each seeking subservience more than light? If truth be one, as we believe, is there any one so in touch with the whole of it that he or she has no need to learn from another? Science in pursuit of the truth is having increasingly, it seems, to deal with mysteries beyond its reach. And we religious types often hide from the same mysteries by offering facile answers to complex problems thinking thereby to defend God, who does not need our defense.

Sitting awhile before a picture like the one above, taken by the Hubbell Telescope from space, would do all of us good if what we are really seeking is truth and not our own advantage. Parabolically, wouldn't it be interesting to know if the divides between exponents of science and religion are due more to our distance in loving and humble relationship with each other than they are to matters of either fact or faith. Maybe God is teasing us into the kind of humility that awe alone creates in those seeking greater understanding on both sides.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bless the Children and Let Them Bless You!

ictures Courtesy of Dayton Walker (Click for Larger View)

Yesterday was incredible at our church! Three services of worship, music by the bells, a fine sermon by Kay Sorvik, two full-length concerts featuring our children's choirs at extended Sunday School hours, and a mission banquet in the evening in support of bush church parsonages in Alaska. Plus, though I could not attend, another authoritative look at women hymnologists of the church by Dr. Gracia Grindal of Luther Seminary.

But the children especially blessed all who saw their one-hour, twice repeated "Good News" celebration of hymns of many types from many ages, tied creatively together with brief narratives on composers and authors. The script was authored by Joy Singers Directors Dawn Savat and Marilyn Jensen, who also conducted along with Praise Singers Director Carrie Ann Krause, accompanied by Nichelle Kaul and Alyce Hawkinson. It was all choreographed by Elizabeth Truong, and the children were center stage, whether as soloists, smaller group participants, a dance enseble, or as an entire choir. Those who attended were clearly moved by their musical discipline and joy in participating.. One Assemblies of God pastor, come from a distance to honor his granddaughter, was especially blessed by the intergenerational nature of the event.

I have no greater longing in my own heart for the children of Salem--and indeed, children in every church--than that they come into God's house feeling at home, eager to learn and experience what faith and the church are all about. So much awaits them there, more than any of us has yet observed in a lifetime. We must help them come to Jesus and, like him, be about their true Father's business as we teach them things both old and new from his Word.. We must also let them move us to be more childlike in our faith and commitment.

Praise with me in this moment all in your church who devote themselves so faithfully and unselfishly to ministry with children. God knows that what is sown in them for him will not return void. So many influences in our time and culture degrade their natural beauty as children of God, tempting them to chase after images less than wholesome, not to mention in their best interests. Be grateful for those with godly spirits and loving hearts who point to and embody God's will for your children. And learn in your gratitude from the children themselves to open your own heart again to God's Spirit and will.

Friday, April 10, 2009

TGIF? Not Really! Well, Maybe!

As times change, so do habits and institutions. Take restaurants, for example. TGIF has built its image on giving thanks that come Friday the work week is over and it's time to celebrate with food and friends--all on the way to a weekend of relaxation and recreation. No more, not in this economic climate. If now its "Friday Night Out" the mood has shifted for many from one of celebration to one of anxiety over not having a job at all. Once wanting only to "get away," many want rather now only to "get back to work."

In larger historic perspective, "Black Friday," as the Swedes call it, seems a more appropriate term than "Good Friday." Why call it good when Jesus was dead and all hope seemed gone? Few followers of Jesus who were aware of what happened outside Jerusalem on this day were in any mood to celebrate. Mourning and weeping were no doubt in great supply, not to mention fear and doubt. Was he really, after all, who he claimed to be?

One needn't dig very deeply into the modern mind to uncover the same malaise. When all is going well for us and according to schedule, it is not only easy to believe, but easy to divert one's attention from the labor of faith. But when that resiliance is jarred by potholes along life's way, the shallow faith beneath it is really shaken--if not in fact torn apart.

What matters in such times, both then and now, is finding some focus outside ourselves to give us hope--some hidden wonder, like Natalie Sleeth's hymn proclaims, "unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see." We come and go, as do our cultures, and what we need in all our comings and goings is something far more that we or they can ever provide.

Thank God it's Friday? Not really, if all that means is relief from our labors. Yet maybe, if re-entering the story of God's labor for us on the cross we are delivered by grace from the awful spectre of continually struggling to deliver ourselves.

"Black Friday" can only be seen as "Good Friday" on the other side of the cross, when while it is still dark we all come to behold an empty tomb and a risen Savior. Whatever our circumstance in coming there, it will soon be be clear that in receiving him as he comes to us there is always a future and a hope.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pietists and Culture Making

Donald Dayton’s opening lecture at the recent Bethel University Conference on Pietism left me pondering a distinction he made between what he called Intellectual Pietism and Congregational Pietism. What I took from Dayton’s lecture is that to deal with the Pietist spirit intellectually, while important—whether in academia or elsewhere--is quite different from practicing it in a body of believers, which was precisely what historic Pietism was after.

A recent book by Andy Crouch suggests much the same. Culture Making, he writes, is not the fruit of thought leading to behavior. “Culture [rather] helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking” (IVP, 2008, p. 64). The Pietist vision, from its beginnings, was primarily a protest against a Protestant Scholasticism that had codified faith, made Scripture a slave of doctrine, and robbed the church of life.

Crouch’s concern meshes in interesting ways with the Pietist vision. Culture is not changed by grandiose plans for saving the whole world. Culture making actually begins with people as they are and where they are, behaving in obedience to Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whose role it is to bring to mind in everyday circumstances the things of Christ and his Kingdom. For the Christian, obedience to God in Christ is the key to culture making. The mind of Christ grows in us from following him and walking in his ways.

It is tempting for us all, and understandable, to try and form culture around our ideas, or those of some spiritual guru with whom it is tempting to align ourselves. But it is surely more fruitful in the long run to live our lives in such a way as to draw others to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are willing and able to generate through us a culture in keeping with their will.