After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lenten Reading 10 - Saturday, February 27

Lent Reading 10: Draw near to God. Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lenten Reading 9 - Friday, February 26

Lent Reading 9: "Not my will..." Matthew 26:36-45

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.
 Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."
 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will."
 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?
 "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done."
 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.
 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lenten Reading 8 - Thursday, February 25

Lent Reading 8: The Great High Priest. Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;
 he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;
 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.
 So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,
         "YOU ARE MY SON,
 just as He says also in another passage,
 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lenten Reading 7 - Wednesday, February 24

Lenten Reading 7: Tempted on a cross. Luke 23:35-43

And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One."
 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine,
 and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!"
 Now there was also an inscription above Him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!"
 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
 "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."
 And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"
 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenten Reading 6 - Tuesday, February 23

Lenten Reading 6 - Made like us. Hebrews 2:5-18

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking.  But one has testified somewhere, saying,
         For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
 And again,
         And again,
 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.
 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lenten Reading 5 - Monday, February 22

Lenten Reading 5 - The Temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
 And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."
 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"
 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."
 Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"
 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

C. S. Lewis on WWJD

It depends, of course, on what you mean by ‘practising Christian’. If you mean one who has practised Christianity in every respect at every moment of his life, then there is only One on record—Christ Himself. In that sense there are no practising Christians, but only Christians who, in varying degrees try to practise it and fail in varying degrees and then start again. A perfect practise of Christianity would, of course, consist in a perfect imitation of the life of Christ—I mean, in so far as it was applicable in one’s own particular circumstances. Not in an idiotic sense—it doesn’t mean that every Christian should grow a beard, or be a bachelor, or become a travelling preacher. It means that every single act and feeling, every experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, must be referred to God. It means looking at everything as something that comes from Him, and always looking to Him and asking His will first, and saying, ‘How would He wish me to deal with this?’

--C. S. Lewis in God in the Dock

Editor's note: One thing that bugs me to no end is when writers—or at least smart people—put the period or comma outside the quotation marks. This is never, under any circumstance, to be done... unless you are a British writer, as Mr. Lewis was. If English-speaking Europeans are your market, then you may do so. That is why it is such in the quote above. And why s is substituted for z or c in many words.

Lenten Reading 4 - Saturday, February 20

Lenten Reading 4 - We acknowledge our sin. Isaiah 59: 9-14

Therefore justice is far from us,
         And righteousness does not overtake us;
         We hope for light, but behold, darkness,
         For brightness, but we walk in gloom.
    We grope along the wall like blind men,
         We grope like those who have no eyes;
         We stumble at midday as in the twilight,
         Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men.
    All of us growl like bears,
         And moan sadly like doves;
         We hope for justice, but there is none,
         For salvation, but it is far from us.
    For our transgressions are multiplied before You,
         And our sins testify against us;
         For our transgressions are with us,
         And we know our iniquities:
    Transgressing and denying the LORD,
         And turning away from our God,
         Speaking oppression and revolt,
         Conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words.
    Justice is turned back,
         And righteousness stands far away;
         For truth has stumbled in the street,
         And uprightness cannot enter.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lenten Reading 3 - Friday, February 19

Lenten Reading 3 - Troubled by sin. Psalm 38 (NASB)

Prayer of a Suffering Penitent.
A Psalm of David, for a memorial.
    O LORD, rebuke me not in Your wrath,
         And chasten me not in Your burning anger.
    For Your arrows have sunk deep into me,
         And Your hand has pressed down on me.
    There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;
         There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
    For my iniquities are gone over my head;
         As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
    My wounds grow foul and fester
         Because of my folly.
    I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
         I go mourning all day long.
    For my loins are filled with burning,
         And there is no soundness in my flesh.
    I am benumbed and badly crushed;
         I groan because of the agitation of my heart.
    Lord, all my desire is before You;
         And my sighing is not hidden from You.
    My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
         And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.
    My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague;
         And my kinsmen stand afar off.
    Those who seek my life lay snares for me;
         And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction,
         And they devise treachery all day long.
    But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
         And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
    Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
         And in whose mouth are no arguments.
    For I hope in You, O LORD;
         You will answer, O Lord my God.
    For I said, "May they not rejoice over me,
         Who, when my foot slips, would magnify themselves against me."
    For I am ready to fall,
         And my sorrow is continually before me.
    For I confess my iniquity;
         I am full of anxiety because of my sin.
    But my enemies are vigorous and strong,
         And many are those who hate me wrongfully.
    And those who repay evil for good,
         They oppose me, because I follow what is good.
    Do not forsake me, O LORD;
         O my God, do not be far from me!
    Make haste to help me,
         O Lord, my salvation!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten Reading 2 - Thursday, February 18

Lenten Reading 2: Sit alone in silence. Lamentations 3:19-30

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
    Surely my soul remembers
         And is bowed down within me.
    This I recall to my mind,
         Therefore I have hope.
    The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
         For His compassions never fail.
    They are new every morning;
         Great is Your faithfulness.
    "The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
         "Therefore I have hope in Him."
    The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
         To the person who seeks Him.
    It is good that he waits silently
         For the salvation of the LORD.
    It is good for a man that he should bear
         The yoke in his youth.
    Let him sit alone and be silent
         Since He has laid it on him.
    Let him put his mouth in the dust,
         Perhaps there is hope.
    Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
         Let him be filled with reproach.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Reading - Ash Wednesday

What is Lent?

The popular answer: A period of time in which you give up a vice or an unnecessary pleasure.

A better answer: A forty-day season of fasting and prayer, leading up to Easter. It commemorates Christ’s time of temptation in the wilderness. In the early church, it was a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized.

The season of Lent has not been well observed in much of evangelical Christianity, largely because it was associated with “high church” liturgical worship that some churches were eager to reject. Yet many churches which have previously rejected more formal and deliberate liturgy are now recovering aspects of a larger Christian tradition as a means to refocus on spirituality in a culture that is increasingly secular.

It is for my own spiritual edification that I am publishing a scripture reading here for each of those forty days (it's actually more than forty days, but we do not count Sundays, which are always to be days of reflection and never fasting). These readings will be unadorned with photos. I hope to be chastened, shamed and, ultimately grateful enough to give more of my life to Christ. It is my fervent hope that, as we celebrate the risen Christ, we will better understand how costly, how deep, how permanent and how necessary is the gift of life given to us in His death and resurrection.

Reading 1: We have done wrong. Daniel 9:4-19 (NASB)

 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.
 "Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.
 "Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day--to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You.
 "Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.
 "To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets.
 "Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.
 "Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem.
 "As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth.
 "Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.
 "And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day--we have sinned, we have been wicked.
 "O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us.
 "So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.
 "O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.
 "O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name."

Lent, perfection and grace

We may be believers, but our belief is sometimes shaky. We may be redeemed, but we are far from perfect creatures.
None of us wants to be defined by our worst moments. And our faith tells us that God doesn’t define us that way, either. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should try to obscure our shortcomings, inconsistencies and failures, whether moral, ethical or of conscience.
Lent, which begins in most of Christendom in a few days, is the period during which we believers are meant to be preparing ourselves for the coming Eastertide. We are supposed to take stock, prayerfully. Repent. Prepare our hearts and souls for the resurrection. Lent is the time when we should be the most honest with ourselves and with God. Look our sins and shortcomings and failures straight in the eye.
As I understand it, the point of the Easter story — of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection — is that we can’t fix ourselves by ourselves. We cannot live a perfect life that would earn our place in the kingdom.
Lent points to Easter and the point of Easter is grace.

We can’t do it by ourselves. In fact, it’s nothing that we do ourselves that remakes our hearts and minds into the kind of perfection that God deserves from the people he loves (and who are supposed to love God).
Our leaders (civil or religious) should not be expected to live perfect, consistent lives any more than the rest of us should. We are all hypocrites. We are all conflicted. We all make mistakes.
To pretend otherwise is a lie that cheapens the grace that goes before us all.
--Cathleen Falsani at The Dude Abides.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Four Loves

What does it mean to love?

   Of all the words in the English language (currently estimated at around a million), one lone four-letter word seems destined to carry a weight far beyond its size. The word love can mean many things by definition—there are five in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary—and even more by emotion. Yet there is only one word for them all. Thus we are left to say that we love our spouse and we love chocolate, and hope for the best.
   The Greeks had it better. They had at least four words for love: phileo, storge (a hard g, pronounced store-gay), eros and agape (uh-gah-PAY), which describe, respectively, brotherly (or familial) love, affection, erotic love and charity (what Lewis calls God’s love). And while most of us have heard this, perhaps even listened to sermons about it or read books about it, leave it to C. S. Lewis, in his slim volume, The Four Loves, to bring it to us in his fresh and inimitable way.
   Published in 1960 (fittingly by his wife, his one true love, whom he had married only three years before, and who would die of cancer weeks after publication), The Four Loves does much more than explore love between two people. Lewis peers into the issues of love between parents and children, men for other men and women for each other. Also discussed are the questions of sex, possessiveness, jealousy, pride, false sentimentality, manners and love, and even the humor of love.
   How better to pique your curiosity than a few quotes:
   On Affection:
[A]ffection has its own criteria. Its objects have to be familiar. We can sometimes point to the very day and hour when we fell in love or began a new friendship. I doubt if we ever catch Affection beginning.
…Affection would not be affection if it was loudly and frequently expressed; to produce it in public is like getting your household furniture out for a move.
   On Friendship:
Friendship is—in a sense not at all derogatory to it—the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has the least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd.
…Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.”
…The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (or course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.
   On Eros:
Sexuality may operate without Eros or as part of Eros… . I am not at all subscribing to the popular notion that it is the absence or presence of Eros which makes the sexual act “impure” or “pure,” degraded or fine, unlawful or lawful. If all who lay together without being in the state of Eros were abominable, we all come of tainted stock.
…Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself. Eros wants the Beloved.
….It is not for nothing that every language and literature in the world is full of jokes about sex… . Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess.
On Charity:
God is love… We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that needs to give.
…[D]ivine Gift-love—love Himself working in a man—…desires what is simply best for the beloved…Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering. Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself.
Love is not always easy, as Lewis reminds us:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
The Four Loves is classic Lewis, and should be read by all Christians. At the same time, it is a great book for anyone who is interested in how God interacts with human emotion—or someone who wants to understand better the mystery of love.
Wayne S.

Old love letters

Happy is the novelist who manages to preserve an actual love letter that he received when he was young within a work of fiction, embedded in it like a clean bullet in flabby flesh and quite secure there, among spurious lives.
Vladimir Nabokov, from Speak, Memory

This quote, despite its rather jarring simile, is apropos of Valentine's Day, of first loves, and memories. In a blessed way, they are all to me bound up in the same person. Happy 37th Valentine's Day, Cheryl. —Wayne S.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

My favorite atheist

   Perhaps it is unusual for me to say it, but I like Christopher Hitchens. A lot. Hitchens, you may know, is the darling of the "New Atheists," and author of the popular book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. While it seems true of Hitchens that much of his contempt for religion seems to come from bad experiences in younger days, (and which, to me, seems as irrational as forgoing Chinese food because it once made you sick) he nevertheless surprises me. While he cannot offer respect for people of faith, he at least offers them the freedom to be people of faith, no matter how deluded. And it seems he finds more problems with those who are "squishy" about their beliefs. (I have mentioned previous comments here.)
   In a recent interview with a Unitarian Minister, Marilyn Sewell, Hitchens makes some amazing, and true, comments about Christianity:
SEWELL: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

HITCHENS: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

SEWELL: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

HITCHENS: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.
I certainly enjoyed that. Didn't you? Of course, if a Christian said "you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian," they would be accused of self-righteousness and being judgmental. But when one who has no affinity says it, perhaps it carries more weight.

Read the entire interview here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Bill Clinton on learning from defeat

When I was young, I often lost school elections, in part because I was in the band and not a star athlete. Then, when I didn't come out on top in music contests, losing was even more painful. My mother taught me not to feel sorry for myself. She said I had good health, a good mind, and good friends, so I should just count my blessings and do more with them.
When I was defeated for reelection as governor in 1980, there didn't seem to be much future for me in politics. I was probably the youngest ex-governor in American history. But if I hadn't been defeated, I probably would never have become president. It was a near-death experience, but it forced me to be more sensitive and to understand that if people think you've stopped listening, you're sunk.
--Bill Clinton, quoted in Wired magazine, January 2010