Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Derek Webb and God's Politics -- Part 2

God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get ItAs I mentioned previously, Derek Webb's new album Mockingbird has an intentional focus on the outworking of the Christian faith, especially in social and political issues. To coincide with the album release, I read God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, "a Christian ministry whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice." Derek notes that God's Politics played a significant role in shaping his recent work; however, he is quick to clarify that he appreciates Wallis for the challenges he raises, but definitely not for all of his conclusions and proposals. That, I think, is a decent evaluation of the book as a whole.

Wallis has a number of good things to say. He decries the tendency of "the Left" to marginalize or even exclude the role of religion in public affairs, and he frequently cites the Civil Rights Movement as a positive example of faith motivating social action. I think he is also correct in stating that "moral issues" should not be constrained to abortion and homosexuality only, as some conservatives tend to do (whether explicitly or by implication), because the Bible also speaks to issues of poverty, justice, race, etc. Christ is Lord over all, and I appreciate Wallis' challenge for Christians to evaluate how their faith impacts all spheres of life.

Wallis delivers no small amount of criticism against the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror, but I find his points to be a great deal more thoughtful than the usual barrage of "Bush lied" rhetoric. For instance, he does not stoop to justifying the actions of terrorists (i.e., "they are freedom fighters" or "the U.S. pushed them into this"), but rather, he openly acknowledges the presence of true evil in the world and in the actions of despots and terrorists. Even if I may not agree with some of his critiques, he makes some good points on the perils of preemptive war, especially in noting that horrors like civilian deaths and abuse of prisoners by "the good guys" tend to be an unavoidable product of war in general. Wallis does not try to argue that Bush intentionally deceived the public, but he does argue that the Iraq War has revealed that faulty intelligence can have dreadful consequences, especially if acted upon in a hasty manner. I think this is worth contemplating. Additionally, Wallis makes some excellent points about the ways in which the Bush administration has justified the War on Terror by taking biblical passages that refer to Jesus or the Church and then applying them to the United States (e.g., "The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it."). Regardless of their opinions on the war, Christians should bristle at such misuses of our Scriptures.

Despite some good points, however, the book left me mostly frustrated. Wallis' major premise is that "people of faith" should band together to address social issues in ways consistent with their religion, unconstrained by the self-serving agendas of political parties. In principle, I think this is a great message, but Wallis does not clearly identify parameters for what constitutes "religious beliefs." He writes from a Christian perspective, but often addresses his remarks to people of other faiths, such as Judaism and Islam. Granted, there are many causes behind which people of diverse faiths can rally, but Wallis does not adequately address instances where these beliefs diverge. For instance, he agrees that unchecked "spirituality" can lead to destructive consequences, such as brutal theocracies or religiously-motivated suicide bombings, but these fuzzy disclaimers just don't provide a useful boundary for discerning between acceptable and unacceptable religious practice. He repeatedly cites "the wisdom of the prophets" as a foundation for social action, but this concept is too broadly-defined to establish them as authoritative. Obviously, people with a high view of Scripture will view the prophetic books as having authority. However, throughout the book Wallis fails to make the much stronger case that could be made by appealing to the authority of the resurrected Christ (towards whom all the prophets look), instead of merely invoking nebulous concepts of "prophetic wisdom."

Wallis' handling of the Scriptures is woefully inadequate. The overarching problem is his atomization of the texts with little attention given to their larger story. In Wallis' treatment, the prophets resemble little more than social activists/political critics with a message from God. Granted, there is no denying that the prophets routinely condemned injustice and corruption. However, the prophets were not addressing abstract concepts; rather, they typically issued indictments against God's people for their covenant infidelity, while also proclaiming God's promise of redemption towards them. The "wisdom of the prophets" flows out of the larger story of God's dealings with His wayward people, which is a re-telling of the even larger story of the Creation, Fall and Redemption of the entire creation. There are any number of instances where Wallis misapplies such passages:

  • Micah 4:1-5 becomes a plan for increased global security ("Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore") by means of ensuring that all peoples have a personal investment in the global economy ("Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"). There is no mention of the eschatological context of this passage, namely that God is the one making peace and providing security at the End of the Age. Instead, Wallis presents this passage as a prescription for how the nations can bring about peace themselves.

  • Similarly, Isaiah 65:20-25 is touted as a prophetic vision of "a good society" filled with economic security, good wages, housing, health and security. Because budgets are "moral documents," he says, this prophetic platform is a guideline to evaluate how well governments are addressing poverty. However, Wallis fails to acknowledge that Isaiah's description of this society immediately follows God's promise that "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth" (v.17)! This passage describes the state of affairs brought about by the final act of divine redemption (explicitly benefiting God's people, nonetheless) -- not a society brought about by well-intentioned governmental policies.

  • Similar examples abound.

    Wallis also displays significant inconsistencies in his arguments:

  • His appeals to "a consistent ethic of human life" are too simplistic. Thankfully, he opposes abortion, while rightfully arguing that Christians need to address a host of socio-economic factors that influence the abortion rate. He cites a good deal of Scripture in support of a pro-life position. However, he cites no Scripture to support his opposition to capital punishment. Granted, he makes many good points about the inequalities and injustices that exist in administrations of the death penalty. Serious believers should be concerned and vocal in ensuring that justice is done, both in punishing the guilty and in protecting the innocent. However, serious Christians must also grapple with the fact that capital punishment is explicitly ordained by God's Word. Unfortunately, Wallis makes no attempt to address God's own "inconsistent" ethics of human life.

  • Wallis also seems to contradict his previous claims about the role of faith in public life when he indicates that churches can address gay marriage in one way (such as refusing to permit such unions) while allowing the State to make other provisions. The obvious question that arises here is, why is it desirable for people of faith to use "the wisdom of the prophets" to influence the State's policies in some instances (e.g., national defense, poverty) but not on this particular one? Additionally, Wallis claims that gay marriage is still an issue up for debate within churches, whereas Scripture itself does not offer much flexibility.

    This is not to say that all of Wallis' arguments from Scripture fall short. He provides plenty of biblical examples where the faithful are admonished to care for the poor. Now, I do believe he overplays his hand here, for many of the "oppression" texts he cites deal not with generic economic disparity but rather with the brutal treatment of God's Old and New Testament people at the hands of tyrannical rulers; be that as it may, Wallis is still correct that the Scriptures advocate compassion for the poor. He makes some good points about Jesus' ministry to the socially downtrodden, especially when he argues that Jesus' statement that "the poor you always have with you" should be understood as a charge for believers to address poverty around them (rather than an excuse to simply avoid a problem because it will always be around). Even if Wallis' case is not as strong as he claims, he does demonstrate that God instructs His people to show compassion to the poor. This fact is worthy of contemplation.

    Wallis' passion for the plight of the poor is admirable, especially as he discusses how the poor become victims of political parties, who use often use poverty as a tool for partisan battles without really confronting the problems. Unfortunately, his political analysis reveals one of the fundamental problems with his views on politics and faith: the implication throughout the book is that people of faith need to support governmental solutions to social issues. Although Wallis commends the work of non-governmental organizations in pursuit of compassion for the poor and justice in society, he claims that this simply isn't enough and that the government needs to step at some point in to enact change. This statement is dangerous because it contains much truth. The purpose of the State is to punish injustice, and the Civil Rights Movement (or in a previous century, Wilberforce's crusade against British slavery) again provides an example of how moral outrage can inform and influence the power of the State for good. Unfortunately, attempts by the government to engineer solutions to social problems often create dependency on the State. Wallis does not address this dark side, and I think this omission greatly undercuts his stance. His position suggests that Christians are morally bound to support large government solutions to issues of poverty and injustice. Such a position is naive and simplistic, mainly because it ignores the contributions of those religious groups and organizations who strive to demonstrate compassion and promote justice without depending on the State to complete their mission. Again, Wallis lauds and encourages the work of private charitable organizations, but his political rhetoric does not seem to consider the fact that the State can easily become an idol competing with Christ for Lordship.

    On the whole, Wallis highlights many issues about which Christians should care deeply. And I think he is correct in trying to encourage fellow Christians to give more thought towards matters of justice and poverty, and more importantly, to put their faith into practice. However, I believe both Wallis' mishandling of Scripture and his over-reliance on governmental solutions hinder him from making a consistent and convincing case for why the Church should devote herself to addressing social issues. In my last installment, I will circle back to Derek Webb's thoughts, which hopefully present a much more solid foundation for Christian activism.

    Keep Reading:
    Part 3
  • Monday, January 30, 2006

    Eric Peters - Scarce

    Be sure to pre-order a copy of Eric Peter's Scarce, his latest album (releasing on February 28). The good Mr. Peters played at our church on Friday night and (acoustically) rocked the house. He included a few selections from the new disc in his set, and it sounds like it's going to be a great album. Eric has posted a few samples from the album on his website, and they are sure to whet your appetite. Be sure to check them out!

    Friday, January 27, 2006

    Cultural Guidelines for Artists

    Thanks to tommy at christian aesthetic, I just read this fantastic article by Calvin Seerveld on what being an artist (of any sort) should look like from a Christian perspective.

    I find some of his conclusions from Scripture about the role of artists ring soundly True. He elaborates on 5 main points that I intend to strive toward as both a writer (at least I am part of a guild of sorts) and a (woefully-inadequate and lately seldom-practiced) painter. Here they are, bolded, with my comments in italics. But please--read the entire article to receive the full impact of his thoughts!

    1) Become filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit Note the word wisdom here. This is not some kind of second-baptism craziness, but instead, Seerveld comments:
    "One's roots have to be deep in Jesus Christ and one's sensitivity to creation has to be uncommonly rich, if you mean to be vitally redemptive in doing anything with christian identity in this secular age."

    2) Conceive art as work and undergo its training like a trade. Lazy artists do not a master make. Or, studies in things we all need to hear!

    3) Distill a fruitful christian art historical tradition in your own blood and pioneer its contribution in our day. Here he references Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, which helped shape me both as a teacher and a poet when I re-read it last spring in a graduate class. Good stuff in this section.

    As a side note, I wonder what it must have been like to hear both Allen Ginsberg and W.H. Auden in the same room. And to talk to Ginsberg in the middle of the Tate must have been surreal. The Tate Britain is my absolute favorite art gallery in the world (even over and above the Louvre, which I've never had enough time to adequately visit and therefore feel somehow deprived) and would think that it might make someone like Ginsberg a bit nervous, overwhelmed by the sheer depth of it all.)

    4) Integrate yourself as a band of christian artists with christian taskforces in other cultural areas in order to reach out as a peoplehood of God to the public at large. I am part of our church's writers' guild, and we are hoping to publish a small literary magazine by Easter, and host readings to reach out to the artistic community. I think this is a step in Seerveld's suggested direction.

    5) Persevere in unfolding art historically, with a generations-long patience and hope. I especially appreciate these thoughts:
    "We do not bring Christ's Rule complete to the earth in our lifetime, and we need a vision that will reach across the generations. We only need to be generous stewards of what we have inherited, to edify the faithful and provide direction for the neighbour."

    Seerveld's "guidelines" made me think first of Eric Peters (and others like him) who have chosen art as their occupation, and go about it with glad hearts, persevering despite setbacks and struggles and little recognition from the world, yet preserving the message of the Creator in ways that will continue for my children's children and beyond.

    1/29/06 Update: Apparently, I'm just discovering something that has been around a while. This article was derived from Seerveld's twenty-five-year-old "underground classic" called Rainbows for the Fallen World which I hope to acquire from Hearts and Minds Bookstore in the near future; they gave it a great review here.

    Also, Gideon Strauss wrote a fine follow-up piece this week on how to incorporate Seerveld's five guidelines into all spheres of life. A must-read.

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Derek Webb and God's Politics -- Part 1

    Derek Webb - MockingbirdMockingbird, the latest album from Derek Webb, has caused a bit of a stir in certain quarters. And not suprisingly, for the former member of Caedmon's Call has intentionally released an album intended to spur evangelical consciences to closer examination of issues such as poverty, affluence, justice and politics. Webb is no stranger to controversy, as his previous works have often highlighted negative aspects of consumerized Christianity (both in his own life and in the society at large). However, the emphasis of this album is a marked change from past ones, and many fans have expressed a diverse spectrum of attitudes about the trajectory of Derek's songwriting.

    Musically, Mockingbird is a bit of a cross between his previous solo studio recordings, somewhere between the jangly folk-rock of She Must and Shall Go Free (his first) and the richly-textured experimentations of I See Things Upside Down (his second). The new album has a very stripped-down acoustic sound, with tasteful use of horns and strings in places. Derek has always been skilled at writing memorable melodies, but it's cool to see him continue to develop his trade. (The chord progression to "Rich Young Ruler" may be one of the coolest ones he's ever written.) With each album, Derek has grown musically, writing great songs without being pigeon-holed by his previous works. My only real complaint about the sound of the new album is that Derek's voice is really rough. I'm pretty sure it is intentional, as his voice wasn't nearly as ragged in recent concerts we've attended. But that's really a minor gripe. Musically, Mockingbird is Derek in top form.

    Of course, the content is the most controversial aspect of the album, as Mockingbird intentionally addresses the intersection of Christian faith with social action. I think "A New Law," the second track, provides the crucial framework for understanding the whole album. For example, Derek writes:
    don’t teach me about politics and government
    just tell me who to vote for
    don’t teach me about truth and beauty
    just label my music
    don’t teach me how to live like a free man
    just give me a new law

    i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
    so just bring it down from the mountain to me

    i want a new law
    I think this song is critical to "getting" the album, because Derek explicitly states that the issues he raises are complex ones, without easy answers. Far too often, Western Christians (products of our instant gratification society) simply do not want to engage the subtleties and nuances of the surrounding world, as we would rather find a quick-fix via extra-biblical rules. Given these lyrics and comments in interviews, Derek acknowledges that he is more interested in generating discussion on social issues rather than demanding specific responses. Derek's audience for most of these songs is middle-class Evangelical America, to whom he gives the reminder that the Christian's first allegiance is to "A King and a Kingdom" and not to a nation or a people or a government. In the same song, Derek rejects the "great lie" that "Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him." Obviously, there are few people who would assent to that statement, but I do think that our words and actions sometimes betray a latent belief that the Christian faith is equivalent to a particular culture. As God's people, we would do well to learn how to distinguish between the two, not only in theory but in our practice.

    Needless to say, Mockingbird has raised the ire of a number of fans. Not a few Reformed critics have charged that this album is at worst a betrayal of the Gospel and at best a tragic minimization of it. Honestly, I see these charges as extremely unfair, because Derek has stated in numerous contexts that the themes on this album are necessary extensions of his previous work: he has previously established the solid foundation of the Gospel and the importance of the Church, and this album deals with their outworkings as Christian ethics. So I think the detractors are way off base, at least on that complaint. Of course, there's plenty of room for discussion on specific issues, and I certainly don't agree with everything Derek has written on the album. But again, Derek seems much more interested in generating discussion among Christians regarding these problems, and much less in convincing them to adopt his specific solutions. And most importantly, I think Derek has already laid the foundations for addressing social issues (regardless of the exact approach), because he roots them firmly in the Gospel message, especially as a proclamation of the present-and-yet-coming Kingdom.

    In the next post, I'll look at a book that Derek acknowledges as being influential in the writing of Mockingbird -- God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis.

    Keep reading:
    Part 2
    Part 3

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Four things (Allison)

    I've seen lots of lists of "four things" all over the blogosphere recently, so I was glad when someone-- Travis-- finally tagged us. I like assignments!
    Here goes...

    Four jobs I've had:
    Golf Course Cashier/Cart-Washer
    Summer Camp Counselor/Ropes Course Director
    Receptionist for a Non-Profit Organization
    High School English Teacher

    Four movies I could watch over and over (series is one entry):
    The Incredibles
    Star Wars Trilogy (original, of course!)
    The Princess Bride

    Four books I could read over and over (Again, a whole series counts as one, excluding the Bible):
    Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
    L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series (yes, all 7)
    C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (again, all 7)
    Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the Murray family books

    Four places I have lived:
    Geneva, Alabama
    Birmingham, Alabama
    Atlanta, Georgia
    For 6 weeks: St. John's College, Oxford, England

    Four TV shows I watch:
    Gilmore Girls
    Arrested Development
    The Office

    Four places I have been on vacation:
    Montreal, Canada
    Paris, France/London, England ("Tale of Two Cities" tour in high school)
    Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela
    Grand Canyon, Arizona

    Four websites I visit daily:
    Boars Head Tavern

    Four favorite foods:
    Cornbread (the REAL kind made in a a cast-iron skillet)
    Filet Mignon
    Pad Thai
    Chocolate chip cookie-dough ice cream

    Four places I'd like to be right now:
    Relaxing on a Caribbean Beach (Los Roques is nice)
    In a tea shoppe or castle library somewhere in England
    Sitting beside a fire in a cabin in the Appalachian Mtns
    Curled up on the sofa at home reading a book

    Four bloggers I'm tagging:
    Mary Louise
    I couldn't think of a fourth-- let me know if you want to be tagged!

    Four things (Gaines)

    Since I've been tagged by Travis, I guess I'll have to comply with the requested "fours." (I will be using the same cheats rules that he used in his.)

    Four jobs I've had:
  • Copy Maker
  • Legal Courier
  • Research Assistant (Software development for aircraft threat detection and avoidance)
  • Project Manager

  • Four movies I could watch over and over (series count as one):
  • Star Wars Trilogy (the original!)
  • Billy Madison
  • Back to the Future Trilogy
  • Vernon, Florida

  • Four books I could read over and over (series count as one, and excluding the Bible):
  • Harry Potter
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Against Christianity
  • The Chronicles of Narnia

  • Four places I have lived:
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Sylacauga, AL
  • Montgomery, AL
  • Atlanta, GA

  • Four TV shows I watch:
  • The Simpsons
  • LOST
  • Arrested Development (*sniff sniff*)
  • The Office

  • Four places I have been on vacation:
  • Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Gettysburg, PA (along with every major Civil War battlefield between there and Alabama -- all in one week!)
  • Disney World
  • Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

  • Four websites I visit daily:
  • Wikipedia
  • Bloglines
  • CNN
  • Google

  • Four favorite foods:
  • Tortilla Chips w/ spinach queso
  • Steak
  • Pizza
  • Breakfast Casserole

  • Four places I'd like to be right now:
  • Home
  • Scotland
  • New Zealand
  • Los Roques

  • Four bloggers I'm tagging:
  • The Cranes (both of them)
  • Trevor
  • Ron
  • Congratulations, Alexa!

    One of my sorority sisters, Alexa Jones (pictured below, left), was the second-runner up in the Miss America pageant this weekend. She has been competing in pageants for years, and I know she represented her home state well. A few years ago, to demonstrate her heart for service, she started a non-profit organization to promote arts education in Alabama schools. Though she didn't get the crown, I know just being in the top three must have been the thrill of a lifetime.

    Whatever you may think of pageants, it certainly takes poise, intelligence, talent, and a knack for public speaking to achieve such a position. She started as a Junior Miss (like me!), graduated from BSC with an English major/art minor (also like me!) and is now pursuing an M.A. in Art History at UAB and has already won over $13,000 in scholarships at the state level (NOT like me). She also dances beautifully. I just had to give a shout out for a fellow Wiregrass girl (she's originally from Andalusia), English major, and art lover. Way to go, Alexa! (Edited for updated factual information...I'm so behind!)

    You Probably Shouldn’t Lead Worship Anymore If…

    Some much-needed laughs for a dreary Monday morning, courtesy of Purgatorio.


    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Worship Leaders and Theology

    Bob Kauflin had a series of posts last week lamenting the fact that many church musicians simply do not have a great desire to study theology, and I think he makes some very good points. I think most Christians, musicians or not, would admit that we don't study the Bible like we should. But I think this is even more problematic when it concerns musicians in the church, especially those who lead worship. In many churches, the "worship leader" -- for all practical purposes -- has a teaching position second in authority only to the pastor. And a further argument could be made that, for many churches, the content of the worship music imparts far more theology than the pastor's sermon. It isn't merely that some sermons aren't substantive (of course, that happens, too!) -- the greater issue is that music is a powerful medium for communication, for better or for worse.

    Now, I don't think that churches should require a doctorate in theology for leading worship, or anything like that. However, I think local assemblies and pastors would benefit greatly by encouraging their worship leaders to study theology more seriously, in order to better serve and instruct their congregations.

    On Musicians and Reading Books

    Part 2

    Part 3

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    100% Spam free!

    Blogger recently identified our blog as a possible "spam blog." As such, every post and template edit required word verification. Bummer. But, after an e-mail and a week or so, the good folks at Blogger have determined that we at Team Redd are actual people and not spam-bots. Hooray!

    iMonk on the Local Church

    Michael Spencer has some good thoughts on "Walls That Won’t Fall: Basics For the Local Church."

    He concludes:
    So, here’s my view of the church: Jesus intentionally began it and shaped its basic form. One cannot practice New Testament Christianity in a healthy and full way without participation in a church. A church is not just a universal description of all Christians, but a local, visible gathering of Christians with allegiance to the creeds of the larger church, confessions built on its own reading of the Bible, covenants that describe the responsibilities and privileges of explicit church membership and a constitution that covenants the leadership functions of the church in an orderly way.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Raising Ebenezer

    Good article in Christianity Today about the downside of contemporizing hymn texts.

    (Courtesy of Mark the Sage.)

    Monday, January 09, 2006


    Alastair has "Some Remarks On Conversion Testimonies," and I certainly resonate with his concerns regarding the focus of the typical Evangelical testimony:

    If our understanding of conversion is focused on Christ’s entering into our lives, rather than vice versa, we will be inclined to tell our conversion stories in a way that differs from the way that we would tell our stories if the focus were upon our entering into Christ’s life. If conversion is about entering into a bigger story than our own — becoming part of the life of Christ in the Church — the retelling of our own personal stories in terms of the great narrative of redemption will become a central task in our recounting of our conversions.

    I have often struggled with something that Alastair describes in his post, namely the plight of a person born into a Christian family and raised in the church. If such a person continues to grow steadily in the faith from infancy (although far from perfectly), what exactly is his "testimony"? In college, for example, I felt quite a pressure to craft a conversion story, and honestly, it was very difficult to match my own faith experiences with those of my baptistically-minded friends. Instead of a single, pivotal conversion event, my religious history consisted of a pattern of mostly-steady growth, accompanied by minor crises of faith and subsequent reaffirmations. Not very exciting. Thankfully, in recent years, I've come to appreciate just how great a blessing it is for me not to have a dramatic conversion story, because it attests to my parents' faithfulness in raising me in the church. As Doug Wilson has said, "Glory to God for boring testimonies!"

    I do think personal testimonies can play quite an important role in the life of the church. A few months back, I listened to a great lecture by Bryan Chapell (Covenant Seminary) on "Worship as Gospel Re-Presentation", in which he included a survey of liturgical forms used within the Protestant tradition, starting with Luther and Calvin. Although he emphasized the importance of many elements common to these traditions (singing, corporate prayer, scripture readings, etc), he also suggested that Christians investigate how corporate worship might be enriched by the use of other elements, such as the personal testimony, which could be used as a vehicle to retell the Gospel story. Chapell did not develop this thought much further in his lecture, and Alastair's comments are particularly useful here. There should not be a Procrustean approach to such testimonies, nor should they focus formulaically around our own individual histories, as they intersect with Christ. Instead, each Christian has a unique story that becomes grafted into the much larger story of Jesus Christ.

    "Ageism" in the Church

    This post by Tim Challies highlights an increasingly-serious problem within Evangelical churches: the marginalization or exclusion of the elderly. Challies offers several examples of the great esteem that Scripture gives to the elderly, and he notes that this high regard is a direct affront to the prevailing youth-culture which permeates our churches. He writes:
    A clear picture emerges from the pages of Scripture. That God honors age above youth does not mean that God despises youth and that He honors all elderly people. But a person who has lived a long life of dedicated service to God, walking in the paths of wisdom, is surely worthy of higher honor than the youth who has only just begun.

    And so we need to ask a question about the church. Does the church honor the Bible in honoring age, or does the church instead honor youth? Or are we a hard-faced church that does not respect the elderly? [See Deuteronomy 28:50, ESV]

    Again, this does not mean that younger Christians have no contribution to make within their churches and communities. Far from it! However, as Evangelicals continue to discuss and explore new ways of "doing church" in the larger societal context, the sad truth is that the wisdom of the elderly rarely has a voice in the dialogue or even a place at the table.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006


    (Yeah, I know that subject line is a rip-off. Whatever.)

    Couresty of Lark News:
    Blessing the iPod: Churches sanctify music devices

    The part about pastors urging youth group kids to burn their raunchy CD's (with fire, that is) and delete them from iTunes is a riot, especially when one pastor reveals his plans for another blessing service for the new video models:

    "You can't have Jesus in your heart and Desperate Housewives on your iPod,'" he says.

    (Shout out to Trevor: I know what you got for Christmas, and I think you know what you need to do, if you haven't already. Amen.)

    Rabbi Saul on Worship

    "What is Worship?" -- Tim Gallant offers some thought-provoking reflections. Good stuff.

    PS Be sure to check out the ongoing discussion in the comments, also.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    All Shall Be Well

    (I kept forgetting to post this...I wrote it in December and still wanted it to see the light, unlike most of my other posts which get relegated to draft status forever. Oh, and I promise my post on "community" will be published soon...)

    I'm fairly certain that Andrew Peterson has read Madeline L'Engle's book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I finished re-reading it a few weeks ago and this particular passage jumped out at me in light of Andy's song, "All Shall Be Well," which is still finding rotation in my CD player quite often. I wonder how much this passage by L'Engle might have influenced him to write a song using Julian of Norwich's words? Anyway, I thought I'd share some thought-provoking quotes.

    (I'd also like to plug the book Walking on Water-- if you haven't read it, you should. You may not agree with everything she says, but it's definitely thoughtful prose. Basically, it's a memoir/discussion about her life as a writer who happens to also be a Christian. According to L'Engle, there is no such thing as a "Christian artist" or "Christian art," there are only artists who are Christians. Even unbelievers can declare the glory of God through their creations unknowingly. Christians just happen to know the purpose for which they create.) And we should continue to create, even in the midst of what seems like chaos.

    Here's a story from Chapter 9 where L'Engle describes what she went through after hearing how her granddaughter, Lena, had been hit by a car and was in the ICU, and she was far away and unable to be with her.

    Madeline L'Engle wrote:
    I opened the small prayer book I bring with me when I travel, and when I came to the psalms for the evening, there was a picture of nine-year old Lena, taken just a few weeks before, at the baptism of her baby brother. It was almost more than I could bear. I held the prayer book loosely and a card fell out... On it were the words of John of the Cross: "One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well."

    And I knew I had to make that act of thanksgiving. I'm sure I was given the grace to give it, that night, and during the several days that followed, when I jammed as many lectures and classes into a short a time in order to be able to get home to the family as soon as possible. The largest part of that act of thanksgiving was gratitude for my children and grandchildren, for the first nine years of Lena's life, and then to say with Lady Julian of Norwich, "But all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well," and then to add, "No matter what." That was the important part, the "No matter what."
    It was ten days before Lena regained full consciousness and we knew she would recover.

    At the end of the chapter she comes back to the earlier reference:

    All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. No matter what. That, I think, is the affirmation behind all art which can be called Christian. That is what brings cosmos out of chaos.

    When we experience difficult times -- a dying family member, trouble at work-- it can often seem that things are out of control. But they aren't. And though we are never promised that everything will be fair, or right, or just for us in this life, we know that the One who was and is and is to come rules and reigns NOW. It may not seem that way from our earthly vantage point, but that is why we see as through a glass, darkly. As Julian's assessment and Andy's song agree, all SHALL be well, one day, when the whole creation which is groaning and waiting in eager anticipation will be redeemed, along with those who are in Christ, and we will have new bodies and a new creation in which to explore. But for now, by writing a few words, carefully placing paint on a canvas or clay on a potter's wheel, by building a cake or mowing the lawn, by constructing a house or fixing someone's plumbing, even by balancing accounts or fixing a computer, we all have our part to play in bringing cosmos out of chaos.

    Andy's music certainly brings cosmos out of chaos, and explicitly declares and affirms that no matter what we may struggle with in this life, we look forward in the hopes that one day, Christ shall return to redeem the earth, and then all shall be well. I was especially reminded of this while watching him and about twenty other amazingly talented musicians and vocalists perform "Behold the Lamb of God" on December 11th.

    Gather round ye children come,
    Listen to the old old story
    Of the power of death undone
    By an infant born of glory
    Son of God, Son of Man

    Thanks, Andy, for the affirmations.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Under The Banner Of Heaven

    Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent FaithUnder the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, is a disturbing yet immensely compelling read. Subtitled A Story of Violent Faith, this non-fiction work explores the subject of Mormon Fundamentalism and its outgrowth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The main narrative theme focuses on the 1984 murder of a young woman and her infant daughter at the hands of two of her husband's brothers. The culprits, both lifelong LDS members who had become involved with a fundamentalist strain of Mormonism, claimed that God Himself ordered the killings. Using this horrible crime as a launching point, Krakauer delves into the history of the LDS faith, as well as the practices of extremist sects that have broken away from (or have been excommunicated by) the mainstream Mormon church.

    Polygamy is the major distinctive of these Fundamentalist groups (FLDS, for convenience), and Krakauer describes several "colonies" established throughout rural North America where the practice continues. Because the men cannot legally marry more than one wife, these FLDS enclaves have astronomically high rates of "unwed mothers" and, thus, qualify for significant amounts of federal assistance. Moreover, these groups view this fraud against the United States as justified, for they view the government as hopelessly corrupt (and indeed, this anti-government sentiment has significant precedent within LDS history). The descriptions of the convoluted familial linkages within these sects border on the comic, such as the case of one woman who has become her own stepgrandmother via "plural marriage." However, these situations are actually tragic, because the "women" taken into polygamous relationships are usually underage girls with little opportunity for escape. Although Krakauer stresses that the LDS Church has officially repudiated plural marriage and now denounces groups that still practice it, he also details how polygamy was a core facet of early Mormon teachings, including those of founder Joseph Smith and his successor Brigham Young. FLDS groups claim to be restoring the historic tenets of their faith; moreover, Krakauer states that their numbers continue to grow as devout LDS members, sincerely seeking to learn more about their founders, continue to discover a host of teachings that the LDS church has steadily downplayed during the last century.

    Another downplayed facet of the Mormon story is the considerable violence surrounding the birth of the LDS church. Although Joseph Smith's own history was rife with questionable behavior, the Mormons typically were on the receiving end of mistreatment during the years of his leadership, even while he began propagating new revelations concerning plural marriage -- albeit stealthily -- towards the end of his life. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, however, the LDS went public with Smith's teachings on polygamy, "the Most Holy Principle." These revelations created schisms within the church and greatly inflamed animosity from those outside. However, the Saints under Young adopted a policy of retaliation against their persecutors. During this dark period, violence committed against and by Mormons was widespread, including the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, during which a group of LDS settlers (most likely on Young's orders) and Indian "allies" ambushed and exterminated a west-bound wagon train. In an 1880 address, John Taylor, Young's successor, rallied the faithful "under the banner of heaven" against the US government in order to preserve polygamy. Even when the violence eventually subsided, the anti-government rhetoric from LDS leaders did not diminish as quickly.

    At last, in 1890, the LDS church officially renounced plural marriage and began the process of mainstreaming into American society. Those devoted to "the Principle" refused to abandon polygamy and were eventually forced to break ties with the LDS. Krakauer notes that, ironically, Smith himself had established the foundation for these schisms: he denounced the cold formalism of existing denominations, and he instead advocated a vibrant personal faith marked by direct revelation from God. Unfortunately, problems soon arose regarding how to determine which personal revelations took precedence over other conflicting ones. Although Smith quickly (and conveniently) received word from God establishing himself as the sole authoritative revelator for the LDS, the damage had already been done, and a steady stream of prophets arose, usually splitting from existing groups. To this day, many of these would-be revelators claim the mantle of the "one mighty and strong," whom Smith foretold will usher in the return of Christ.

    These strands of LDS and FLDS history all converge in the case of Ron and Dan Lafferty, who committed the double homicide that forms the focal point of the book. They, along with their brothers, were once shining examples of devout LDS members. However, as they delved into the church's history -- especially those aspects downplayed by the mainstream LDS establishment -- they began to gravitate towards FLDS teachings on polygamy, opposition to the government, and the imminent return of Christ (preceded by the "one mighty and strong"). When sister-in-law Brenda (wife of brother Allen) began to speak out against these new ideals, Ron claimed to have received a revelation directly from God calling for the "removal" of her and her infant daughter, both of whom posed an obstacle to the spread of "the Kingdom of God." The account of Ron's trial is fascinating, centering on the issue of mental competence and the insanity plea. Should a person instructed to murder "by God" automatically be considered insane? After all, is the notion that someone "hears from God" enough to question their mental competence? If so, argued the State of Utah, then millions of religious Americans should likewise be considered insane. This interplay between faith and "rational behavior" segues into Krakauer's conclusions on the nature of religion. Unfortunately, the author creates a rigid dichotomy between faith and reason, and this tension appears throughout the book. Krakauer admits that he is an agnostic when it comes to matters of faith, and this presupposition permeates his writing and often reveals a subtle bias against strongly-held religions beliefs.

    However, this flaw is not enough to ruin the book. Krakauer has done a very detailed job of researching the facts behind the murder case, as well as the history of the LDS and the current activities of FLDS groups. Additionally, he has done a tremendous job with narrating all these strands into a cohesive whole. The details are certainly chilling and not for the squeamish, but the book is utterly fascinating, especially for those interested in learning about one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Team Redd's Books Read in 2005

    Now preserved for posterity ...


  • The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)
  • The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2)
  • The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3)
  • Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Pilgrim's Progress
  • Paul for Everyone: Romans (Part I)
  • Leave It To Psmith
  • The DaVinci Code
  • The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4)
  • The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5)
  • Paul for Everyone: Romans (Part II)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Bible and the Future
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • A Godward Life
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (again)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (redux)
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
  • For All The Saints?: Remembering The Christian Departed
  • Praying Backwards
  • Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
  • Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance
  • The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8)
  • Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Quidditch Through the Ages

  • Allison

  • Easy Chairs, Hard Words: Converstions On The Liberty of God
  • The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)
  • With Rigor for All: Teaching the Classics to Contemporary Students
  • Whirligig
  • Persepolis
  • Persuasion
  • The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2)
  • Things Fall Apart
  • With Rigor for All: Teaching the Classics to Contemporary Students
  • Lupita Manana
  • The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3)
  • Sweet Summer
  • Uncommon Faith
  • Breathing Underwater
  • Year of Wonders
  • Keep a Quiet Heart
  • The House on Mango Street (again)
  • Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems
  • A Man in Full
  • The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4)
  • What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?
  • The DaVinci Code
  • The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5)
  • White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness
  • Paper Daughter: A Memoir
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • A Separate Peace
  • Holes
  • The Chosen
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Walking on Water
  • The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7)
  • Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8)
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Quidditch Through the Ages
  • The Summons
  • Happy New Year!

    Happy New Books!

    We collected a large pile of books during our Christmas travels, and also acquired a new bookshelf since we have boxes of books in our apartment that need a home. But there's always room for more...

    In order to kick off 2006, I'd like to share a link to the best books of 2005 from Hearts and Minds Bookstore. We first encountered the Borgers (who, between them, have probably read every book they offer), at the JEI conference in July, and Byron Borger's year-end wrap up features some fantastic reviews. I recently finished reading Lauren Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity and heartily agree with Mr. Borger's assessment. His descriptions helped seal my decision to add these to my wish list:

    Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology by Euguene Peterson

    Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

    The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen

    Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams

    The Last Word : Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture by N.T. Wright

    Here's to happy reading in 2006!